Exam stress

An anxiety dream I had when I was seventeen. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

5 July 2001
9.13 AM

I’ve just had the weirdest dream: it was the last exam in my A-levels – a music exam which curiously included certain elements of maths/science (scattergraphs – a part which I did not attempt but which Katie Francis did), geography I believe (but no history), and large sections on English – in fact much of the exam seemed to involve writing essays about books, none of which I remembered having read, although I recognised the titles.

The exam was invigilated by Mrs. Wilson and the other exam candidates included Anna Matthews (she didn’t even do Music GCSE) and I daresay other members of my French set. Chatting to other candidates must have been permitted, as Mrs. Wilson told me off not once. I recall a question about James Taylor, which I intended to answer but didn’t. A part of the exam required the candidate to “jazz up” a tune and perform it – I can’t recall what I did, but Katie Francis, sitting along from me, chose “Little Boy Blue”.

However, tragedy struck – I unintentionally soiled my only piece of manuscript paper by drawing a treble clef when I wanted only a bass clef for my trombone. Mrs. Wilson and I searched but to no avail. My manuscript paper book had vanished, and the only manuscript we could find had things written on it. I tried to make do with this, but it was impossible. Before I knew it, time was up and I had not even had time to start the third section – the most difficult. A sinking feeling entered my stomach as I left the exam – my fellow candidates had had no problems. My ray of light was that I was allowed to take my “jazzing up” task home, finish it, and hand it in the next morning.

On getting home, I found that I had the exam paper too, thus giving me the opportunity to finish it. I read bits out of the paper to my parents, who considered it ridiculous that a music exam should include questions about fire and the use thereof in literature.

Then, after some long, drawn-out business which involved fast-forwarding a video, I discovered a section in the exam I hadn’t seen before, which included short extracts of printed music – just melodic lines (and chords incorporated into the line in some cases). These may have been to identify – I really don’t know – but my attention was drawn to one name to the side of one extract – Roman Pokorny. My face lit up. I did not manage to place it straight away, but when I recognised quaver-crotchet-quaver patterns, such as those I have to play in Noye’s Fludde at the moment, I identified it immediately. I played it to Mummy on a keyboard connected to our downstairs stereo – not without some difficulty, as I could only use one hand to play the chords, since the keyboard was practically concealed in one of the arms of the sofabed. Mummy also recognised the tune. At this point or thereabouts, I sensed Daddy’s tension at the presence of jazz, so I stopped playing and woke up.

On awaking, I recalled how my last exam was actually three weeks ago and was not as much of a fiasco as in my dream. However, I also identified the extract at the end as being not by Roman Pokorny at all, but by Antonio Carlos Jobim – it was “So Danço Samba”.

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3 Responses to “Exam stress”

  1. lizzysiddal Says:

    I still have anxiety dreams about my Latin A-level …. 35 years on. Fact is that my Latin teacher abandoned me for an Oxford scholarship/research post 6-8 weeks before the exam and was not replaced to help with pre-exam revision ….

  2. Gareth Says:

    Hi Lizzy! I’m reading a book at the moment – Joanne Limburg’s excellent memoir about OCD, The Woman Who Thought Too Much – that mentions in passing that it’s quite common for exam anxiety dreams to persist for years. Given your circumstances, perhaps that’s understandable… Though things worked out OK, presumably 🙂

  3. lizzysiddal Says:

    I believe it cost me my A-grade. Fortunately though not my preferred university place. Though that would be quite different in today’s competitive market.

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