Sunday, April 3, 2011

Comprehensive Anxiety

This was a big weekend for me. On Friday, I traveled to Victoria (2.5 hours away) in preparation for the Comprehensive Exam ("Comps") for my M.A. degree. This is the last hurdle in what has been a very long journey to get my degree. I started taking classes in August 2007 and will be finishing my last practicum class in about five weeks. I am working toward my M.A. in Counseling Psychology so that I can become a therapist. I am looking forward to this as I know in my heart it's the right job for me. I have been many things in my working life - journalist, technical writer, lawyer - but none of them really resonated with me the way counseling does.

The Comprehensive Exam is required by my university and tests us on 10 core subject areas that every counseling student must know. Those areas are:

  1. Introduction to Assessment
  2. Advanced Assessment
  3. Advanced Abnormal Psychology
  4. Ethics
  5. Life Span
  6. Advanced Social Psychology
  7. Advanced Research Methods
  8. Theories
  9. Techniques of Psychotherapy
  10. Multicultural Counseling. 
A lot of information to take in and spit out on an exam. We are allowed to take the exam twice. If you do not pass it the second time, you must take remedial classes in the areas you did not do well in before you will be allowed to re-take the exam.

I was sweating this test big time because this was my second try at it. I had taken it in November and was 8 questions (4 percentage points) away from passing. I started studying for the April exam about two days after I took the November test. It was a long five months of trying to learn everything, worrying, and just generally wanting to do well. The anxiety was enormous. My mother bought a plane ticket to be here in May for my graduation and my Dad, who lives a few hours away, was eagerly planning for my graduation as well. There was a lot riding on this and I was feeling the pressure. This is not to say that anyone was pressuring me because they were not. My parents have always been supportive and encouraging and they would have been there for me no matter what. But still...I did not want to disappoint them or myself.

So, after five months of study, the big day was once again on the horizon. I was lucky in a sense in that I had two classmates who did not pass it the first time either so, although we live hours away from one another, we had all studied together and talked through problems on the phone. That helped a lot, both having others to study with and having people to help with the anxiety.

I drove up Friday and studied throughout the day and into the evening. I had a good dinner (studying some more at the restaurant) and then headed back to the hotel I was staying in to study some more. Finally, I went to bed about 2 a.m. I awoke, thinking it was time to get up, and when I glanced at the clock it was only 4:15. I couldn't sleep very well after that. I tossed and turned and got a little more sleep until I finally gave up and got dressed.

I headed over to the school and continued to study in the 45 minutes or so before the test. And then, it was time.  The test is computerized (200 multiple choice questions) and gives you your score immediately. There was some comfort in knowing that I would not have to wait for the score. I would know how I did and be able to begin dealing with it, whichever way it went.

The test started and the first few questions were hard. I began to get worried. As I continued, there were several questions that I knew without hesitation and there were several that I didn't know. I started writing down the question numbers that I was unsure of. I was allowed to miss 60 questions so I figured if I had less than 60 questions that I was unsure of, then I was going to be OK. When all was said and done, I had...72. I went back through the questions I was unsure of, thought about them, changed some answers, and left some other answers. My two classmates who were also re-taking it had finished and so had the other four examinees. It was just me.

I was shaking throughout a lot of the test. Literally shaking. My hand trembling. I was feeling the pressure. I started thinking about how I was going to fail and how I was going to have to explain to all my classmates (when I would see them the following Saturday at a seminar we all have to go to) that I was going to have to take remedial classes and how humiliating that would be and how I was sure all of them would wonder why I couldn't pass this test. I also started thinking of how depressing it was going to be to take those remedial classes and not graduate and not be able to have fun with my Mom when she gets here because I would be sad and depressed over not passing and not getting to graduate.

Finally, I knew that I had done what I could and I had to end it. I pressed the Finish button and the computer asked if I was sure I wanted to submit my test. I said yes. I knew then that it was a matter of seconds before I would know where I stood. Once you press the submit button, it then asks if you would like to view your attempt. I clicked the View Attempt button and....

I PASSED!!! Not only did I pass, but I got 9 percentage points more than I needed, which means I missed 42 questions of the 60 I was able to miss. The relief was UNBELIEVABLE and yet, the adrenalin was still pumping. I passed. I wouldn't have to explain to my classmates that I didn't make it. I would be able to graduate with them. I would be able to enjoy my Mom's visit. I could order my cap and gown. And in May, I will be walking across the stage to get my diploma. I PASSED!


Jaime_sama said...

Congratulations, Shelley!!

Lawfrog said...

Thank you J'aime! I've never been so relieved in my life:)