Journalcalling #18 – Taking a test, losing my breath

Journalcalling   •   November 29, 2021

It was dark and pouring rain when I arrived at the large, multi-story building that housed the testing center. I shielded my paperwork as I dashed for the door. A pre-test email had said emphatically — with six exclamation marks — that I had better arrive with my candidate’s letter, or no test. I rechecked my pocket for a mask; showing up without that would also mean immediate disqualification. Geez.

I had finally reached this point after logging 500 hours of volunteer work in the field of substance use disorder, attending a Recovery Coach Academy as well as trainings on suicide prevention, AIDS and hepatitis. Now, the written test to certify me as a Recovery Support Worker awaited.

When I entered the building, I took a wrong turn and a kind man asked, “testing center?” Yes.
Inside the waiting room, I stood in a short line where people appeared to be checking in and was quickly told by the woman at the desk to sit down until it was my turn.

After a temperature check, I was given a sheet of written instructions: Remove all jewelry except a wedding band and put all belongings except for my driver’s license in a locker I was assigned.

Another woman emerged from a side door to say “next.” It was unclear who was next, and she scolded the six of us seated there for not knowing. She was the screener. In front of her desk, she instructed me to stand on the X on the floor and pull up my pants legs to show my socks, turn all my pockets inside out and place my glasses on the desk so she could check for mini-cameras.

A woman who mercifully smiled ran a wand over my body to check for weapons, and once I was cleared, she escorted me to my cubicle where she placed my license squarely on the desk so it could be seen by the overhead camera.

As a former high school teacher, I thought of all the ways I tried to alleviate test-taking anxiety as my students prepared to take the statewide standardized tests. My fellow teachers and I baked cookies, created skits, filmed ourselves singing and dancing in funny costumes and other desperate measures that made students smile or at least recognize our efforts with the roll of their eyes.

Seated at a desk in front of a computer screen that had my full name in the top left corner, I clicked on the box that read Tutorial. Procedural questions about how to navigate the online test popped up. My face flushed when I got one wrong. It doesn’t make sense. I am obviously clicking the right answer. Where was the actual tutorial? Should I raise my hand?

I kept clicking answers until the right guess advanced me to the next question. You can’t even get these right? Heat began to rise from my toes to my scalp. Tiny drops of sweat popped out on my upper lip.

The 75 real test questions started to appear one at a time, and I did not immediately recognize the answers. Breathe. I thought of my colleagues who had passed this test. They were younger and probably had sharper brains.

Some had said it was challenging; others reassured me that there was no need to study. I studied but not that hard. The practice test seemed easy, and how a Recovery Support Worker should act in different ethical situations seemed like common sense.

A multiple choice question always offers one best answer. I had schooled students on this over and over. Eliminate the two that are obviously incorrect, then you have a 50/50 chance. Look for keywords! But as I went through, there were often those two that really both seemed equally right. Where were my brain cells?

It seemed to take a long time to get through the first 7 questions. I watched the clock on the screen tick down. I had two hours to complete the 75. The screen was too high and my neck hurt.

Finally, I started to move through the questions and felt a little more confident clicking on answers I recognized. In 45 minutes, I was at the end. I felt antsy and wanted to bolt. Just go. I forced myself to go back and reread every question. Go with your first instinct. I changed a couple of answers. There, I had probably aced it.

After I completed a quick online survey about my testing experience, a letter came up that started with Congratulations! You have passed…..
Oh my God, YES.

When I looked at the score, my heart fell. Out of 800 possible points, I had only scored 631. The minimum passing score was 500. Are you kidding me?! The letter said it was a preliminary score. I probably really got more points.

In my car, I immediately took out a pen and paper and did the math to figure out how many I had answered wrong: 15?! Impossible. I am dumb. I needed to see the questions and answers. I will argue for more points.

You passed! That is what I would have told my students. But it didn’t feel good. I want to understand. Alas, the answers will not be provided.

So, off I go, duly humbled, to do this important work that I love. I will:
A) listen closely to the men and women who trust me with their stories
B) express myself effectively without ABCD choices
C) embrace the daily field tests
D) offer reassuring words and resources
E) all of the above