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Feeling Shame at Taking Tests

The trauma you may feel at test time is merely a symptom of another problem. It also helps explain why you may feel physically ill at test time. Generally, the reason is fear -- fear of failure. And why do you have this fear? Because part of your early education included a course titled, "Shame on You 101."

As a small child, school was fun. But somewhere around first or second grade (depending on the individual school system), you were introduced to something new -- a test. Once we were exposed to tests, learning and education would never be the same.

Initially, taking the test was not the problem: It was the subsequent grade and the system of rewards and punishments associated with your grades. If you didn't do well on a test, your peers may have laughed at or ridiculed you. Occasionally, as your teacher returned your graded test to you, it may have been accompanied by a frown or shaking of the head.

Even the way the teacher wrote your grade on your test paper reflected displeasure. You probably noticed the nice neat "A" on the paper of the girl behind you. Your "D" was large and seemed to be scribbled. Anyone could see the "D" from a distance, because it was so large and it was probably written in red ink. However, the "A" on the other student's test paper may have been smaller and probably in a nice, soft blue.

Your chastisement only increased when you took the test home and showed it to your parents. Perhaps your mother's remark was, "You just wait until your father sees this!" Your father arrived home, physically and mentally tired from a hard day's work, reviewed your test and may have said, "You're grounded!" or worse, "What's the matter with you, are you dumb or something?" Actually, you were and are not a dummy. You proved this by learning what the system taught you -- to fear tests.