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Making the Grade: Are you afraid to fail?

I don’t know about you, but I was never a very good test-taker in school. At the time, I was convinced that it was because I just wasn’t able to remember things as well as people like my brother, who often bragged that he could ace any test without even trying or studying.

I now know that my perception of test-taking was horribly flawed by misbeliefs and misperceptions.


Ironically, I was always in advanced classes (except in math), and typically got A’s and B’s. In elementary school, I was in a “mixed class,” where they combined first and second graders in the same room. I was always watching (studying) the second grade curriculum, rather than the first grade curriculum, because I believed that I had already learned everything they could teach me in first grade, when I was in private school for Kindergarten!

I believed I was smarter than all of the first graders.

I had this belief about a lot of things in grade school. My best friend was about a year older than me, so when we went to camp or Sunday School, my mom would always “weedle” to get me into the class with the older kids. I assigned myself as my friend’s protector. And this worked, (until I was in fifth grade and she was in sixth), when she found a new best friend her own age and I was suddenly lost. I was out of a job.

In junior high, there were new friends to make (and protect), only…a lot of these friends were smarter than me. They were GOOD at math and I wasn’t. Though I continued to be in advanced classes, “they” always seemed to have an “easier” time of it. They never seemed to have to work hard at it and things just came naturally.

By the tender age of 13, I had mastered the art of comparison, and if there had been a class in it, I’d surely have scored an “A” – not for achievement, but for “absorbed,” because I was consumed by my own deficiencies.

By high school, the pattern was set. There were always others who were smarter, better, brighter, prettier, faster, more artistic, more accomplished, or richer. I was in AP (Advanced Placement) classes with “very smart” people who “got” A’s and passed the AP tests (which meant they were well-qualified to earn scholarships to prestigious universities.) Meanwhile, I struggled to maintain B’s and C’s and did not take the AP tests. My friends “got” 1300+ on their SAT’s; I earned a little under 1100. I lied to myself for years about my score because I could stand the thought of being viewed as average – or stupid. By “failing” the SAT, I believed that I had failed the ultimate test: LIFE.

So, here’s the point of that characterization:

From the time I was young, I believed (through various pieces of misinterpreted empirical evidence) that things were just “easier” for others and that scoring well on tests was largely a matter of luck. I believed that test-taking was a skill I just didn’t possess. I believed that letter grades on the top of my papers were a direct representation of my value as a person. As the grades dropped, so did my self-worth. I began to take what I got because I figured it represented my true value.

After high school, I began to surround myself by people who were “less intelligent” so that I could feel superior without even trying. If they called me on it, I would simply say that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and if they had a problem, it was there fault. In other words, if they weren’t making the grade, it was on them.

Just think, I “learned” all of this from a fear of taking tests.

I’m sitting here asking myself, “Why didn’t someone set me straight?” Oh sure, people told me how smart I was, and how I wasn’t living up to my potential – but they said that to my brother, too, and he got straight A’s. In other words, he was brilliant and a genius, yet he was told he could do better. Compare that to my self-view, and you end up with a person who couldn’t do or be better if she tried.

It only took me about 40 years to figure it out, but as my father always said, “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will have no other.” (Yeah, that confused me for a long time, too, but I understand it now and this “fool finally learned what dad was always saying:

If you want to succeed at anything in life, you have to….

  • Want it.
  • Prepare for it.
  • Study for it.
  • Commit to it.
  • Believe you can do it.

For the first 40 years of my life, I can say that I “wanted it”…but that is where my plan for success ended, and that is why I did not achieve the success I claimed to want!

Fast forward to my Bariatric After Life.™

People often tell me that managing my weight is just “easier” for me and that I am “lucky” to have lost as much as I did. They tell me they are terrified of regain and failure, something I will “never” have to worry about.

Well I say, weight management is like anything else in life. Look at it as a series of tests, if you want, but the thing is, it has NOTHING to do with luck or ease and everything to do with preparation, commitment and thebelief that you can do it.

If living a healthy life were like a test, what would I have to do to score a good grade on it?

  1. I would have to know (be prepared for) what is going to be on the test. Good teachers always give you a syllabus at the beginning of the course and tell you what to study. They give you a list of books and materials that you’ll have to read in order to do well in the class, and they’ll often give you a study guide. Hey, in spelling, you get the answers in advance! In other words, I’m going to need to know what is expected of me.
  2. I will have to do the assigned work (studying, reading, answering questions, writing essays) to prepare for the test. People don’t have a “testing gene” in their DNA; they aren’t genetically wired to somehow now how to ace tests. They might have an aptitude or predisposition for being able to learn quickly and understand what will be expected of them – but they aren’t psychic. In other words, even pop quizzes aren’t really total surprises. No, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know what’s on the quiz.
  3. I have to want it badly enough to ask questions when I don’t understand something, and I have put in the time and effort required to do the work. I can’t just give up when it gets hard or confusing.
  4. I have to believe I can pass the test. If I have done the work, asked the questions, and know what the test is about, I must believe that I am ready to pass it – not because I am lucky or smarter, but because I am prepared.
  5. I have to take the test. This is no time for fear. I can’t be worried about failure here…it’s time to succeed.

Thoughts about tests.

There are lots of different kinds of tests: Pop Quiz, Essay, Multiple Choice (otherwise known as “Multiple Guess), Fill in the Blank, Verbal, and True/False (just to name a few). We took those tests in school and still take them in life. The difference is, we don’t get a letter grade on the top of our paper – but we do know when we come up with the wrong answer! I used the word “wrong” on purpose. That’s because we are familiar with the terminology of tests: You’re Right or Wrong; You Passed or Failed – and it was either Incomplete or complete. When you miss something, you get a check mark, and when you do well, you get a gold star or a happy face. Right?

Well, I believe that many of us have applied what we think we learned in school on tests to what we think we know about life: We’re right or wrong. We pass or we fail. We give up because we are afraid we’ll miss one of the questions…which earns us an incomplete.

Hmmm…why are we afraid to miss a question on the test? Isn’t that how you learn? Didn’t your teacher give you the right answer when you answered incorrectly? Didn’t you learn that getting something wrong enables you to get it right next time? What about those math tests…show your work! Why? So the teacher can show you where you went off track – and give you partial credit!

You know, I think we should show our work on our life tests. I think we should not look at life as a series of passes (successes) or failures; rights or wrongs, trues or falses…we should look at life as a series of lessons. When we learn that something doesn’t work, we need to change our answer for the next time that same question shows up in life. We need to build upon the work we are doing – the studying and preparation – so that we can advance, move up, learn more…succeed at life.

Life is full of tests – but you don’t have to feel unprepared for them. You already know the answers (or have enough knowledge to figure them out) because life is the best teacher of all – if you’re willing to learn.

Here’s the bottom line for me: When I didn’t do well on tests, it was because I didn’t study or prepare; I didn’t learn from my incorrect answers…I didn’t ask questions, because I thought I should already know the answers. I didn’t do well on essays because I didn’t believe I knew enough about the question to answer, and the 50/50 chance of the true/false often felt like 90/10 (false!)

I’ll end with this true story from 10th Grade AP History.

Our teacher, Mr. Wyatt, was a great instructor who was passionate about the subject of history. He loved watching his students succeed and gave us all the opportunity to do well in his class. We got study notes, knew what would be on the tests, and were encouraged to ask questions.

Now, here’s the unique part: His tests always featured a “correction factor” because he knew that, not all tests are perfect, he might not have covered a certain topic thoroughly enough in our class and, that people can misinterpret meanings.

The correction factor was equal the highest grade in each class, so if someone scored a 93/100, that person would earn the factor of 7 and get a 100/100; everyone else would get 7 points added to their score. This was a great system, but many of us hoped that the highest grade in the class would be low so we’d get a higher correction factor added to our grade!

It’s funny, really, because we still missed what we missed, but it was just easier to blame the “smart person” in the room.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like to read my history book (it was big and wordy) and AP History was 6th period for me, which was immediately after 5th period lunch – so I always fell asleep and Mr. Wyatt always kicked my chair to gently “nudge” me awake. Did I mention my brother was one of his favorite students four years earlier? Did I mention that the semester final contained 200 multiple choice questions? Did I mention that anyone who could miss 100% of the questions would score 100% on their paper (thus, eliminating the correction factor)? Did I mention that one guy got exactly one right on the final exam? That took guts and needless to say, he scored a 1/200…well, the correction factor was 13…so he really got 14/200 – clearly, not an A.

The moral of the story? Life has a correction factor…if we look for it. And that’s a good thing. We can pass the tests that come our way – even if we don’t get a “perfect” score on our paper, a big red “A+” on page one, or a gold star at the top. We can learn when we get it wrong, and we can encourage others to do well.

The Bariatric After Life is not a pop quiz. We don’t have to fear the test; we can welcome it as a new opportunity to learn where we can do better. Ultimately, we must believe that we have the answers to the questions, or have what it takes to figure it out. We are prepared (or are preparing) to pass the test. There are no letter grades here, and the only “fail” is the one you put on your own paper. You won’t get in trouble if you ask your neighbor for help here, but it’s best to ask the teacher. The correction factor is as big or small as you make it, but at the end of the day, you have to BELIEVE that you can succeed at maintaining a healthy life.

Remember to show your work – partial credit counts!

1 comment

1 SINE { 03.07.13 at 5:33 am }

Honestly, I am SO glad I’ve had a two year build up to “taking the test” because now I see it isn’t a pass or fail situation, in fact it is about what I’m willing to put in and ultimately what I’d like to achieve! If I’m a few “marks” either side if that goal then who cares, every step towards it is success huh

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