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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Performance Anxiety for Creative People...

...or how to freak out in one easy lesson.

This has come up a lot for me this week as next Wednesday I take an exam. An exam that, when I'm being reasonable I know:
1. Is about a subject I'm interested in and know a lot about.
2. I've studied for and used all the materials to study and...
3. Is only 125 questions that I only have to get 70% correct and THEY ARE ALL MULTIPLE CHOICE!

So, my question today: why such anxiety? Why do creative people freak out with any sort of test, new situation, or challenge?

Is it because we can imagine any number of scenarios? We can catastrophize to our heart's horror? Or a simpler reason: creative people deal with a lot of rejection--and failing a test is one form of rejection?

Or, dear readers, is it something else entirely?

11 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

I think that rather than focus on creative people the important criterion here is imagination, something everyone has, because I can't imagine anyone not getting into a panic before an exam irrespective of how much studying they've done. It's the fear of the unexpected. You imagine you're going to get a test with 125 multiple choice questions. What (not to panic you further) if you sit down and the examination body has changed things this year and your tutor didn't get the memo?

Creative people exercise their imaginations more than most so perhaps we're more inventive when it comes to cataloguing all the things that could go wrong but we're certainly not alone.

As for rejection? It's more judgement that outright rejection and no one likes being judged. We all imagine – that word again – what the world thinks of us, how witty we are, how good-looking or how clever. An examination provides a benchmark against which we have to stand to see not only how we have performed but how we stand in relation to our peers.

And, of course, an exam is simply a snapshot taken on the day, a day when you may be tired and not at your best. You may know your subject inside out but just not handle pressure situations well. Although I'm not particularly happy with how constant assessment is handled (I'm a qualified assessor by the way) I do think, in principle, it is the fairer system.

Conda said...

Excellent points as always, Jim. Especially the points about being judged by others and it only being a snapshot taken on one day. Who hasn't had the experience of taking an exam on an off-day? My memories are of having to take one when I had the flu..and barely passed (in a subject I knew quite well).

And for us unknowing Americans, what is a "qualified assessor"?

Jim Murdoch said...

In the UK we have something call a National Vocational Qualification, a work-based qualification where your ability to perform certain tasks is assessed on a rolling basis. There is some leeway and not all parts of the qualification need to be gained using "real work" but it should be a realistic working environment. The role of the assessor, itself an NVQ, is to ensure that the subjects achieve the required standard. There are no exams per se and competency can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. On the whole it's a good system. Within reason, if you get something wrong, you go back and do it again until you do get it right.

The Muse said...

For me anxiety is just a fact of life in some situations. Thank God I am not facing any tests, multiple choice or otherwise.

In retrospect, isn't life a test, full of unchartered situations, and ever challenging on a daily basis?

I'm sure you will do fine. Good luck with the exam!

Conda said...

Thanks for the luck, Muse! I'll take all I can get!

And Jim it seems like National Vocation Qualification is fairly pragmatic. I've been teaching exercise classes for years and know a lot about "hands-on" fitness. But much of the exam is "memorized knowledge": principles of exercise, formulas for exercise, muscle names, etc. It's not really testing my abilities as an exercise instructor!

Beth said...

Conda - how did the test go??

Conda said...

Thanks for asking, Beth--I passed! Woohoo! Today I've just been recovering and working on my editing job and teaching a class--oh, I guess that's not much recovering...

Beth said...

Yay!! I was waiting to see if you said, but got impatient. I'm SO glad you passed - congratulations! And so glad it's behind you, and you can get back to your other stuff - like recovering. :-)

Nancy P said...

Yay!!!!

Jen said...

Congrats, Conda!

Conda said...

Thank you Beth, Nancy, and Jen! I so appreciate the support!

Now that I've gotten caught up on my editing job I can get back to my real life: writing!