***Part of reconsolidating my website I am adding this I wrote in the latter part of the school year. For several of you this may be a new post!***
I am a 22 year old college student, married and am happy with my life.
Today, however, I feel quite down on myself. I ran into an old foe today… one I had not anticipated crossing blades with anytime soon. This post is proof I survived the skirmish, but at a cost.
It arrived during my preparation for a test. I was studied up, I knew the material and was feeling really good about my chances at getting a solid “A” and getting a good hour of “Free time” for reading.*
The first clue came from another student: “Would you like a pencil, too?”
Bewilderment. Then my stomach dropped a little, “I don’t think so… why?”
“Well, I think there’s gonna be a scantron part.”
(In case you are one of the 2.5 people who do NOT know what a scantron is- here is a visual from the scantron site. Look at that. Now look at it again as a dyslexic and appreciate my situation.)
I could hear the cold, high laughter** of the scantron in the back of my mind, mocking me, my heart sank a little.
Yes, my teacher knew about my exemptions. Yes, it is on there. But no teacher has ever remembered on their own and this is a very large class. (Read: I am NOT stopping her to explain my difficulties with Scantron tests in front of everyone. I like to pretend I’m not ashamed, but I hate drawing attention to myself in large groups anyway, much less because I want something. It was just not going to happen.)I weigh my options. The best solution is to catch the teacher beforehand, remind her quickly and return to my seat. Good plan. 15 minutes till the test- plenty of time.
“No thanks.” I flash her a smile as I leave, looking for the teacher. After a quick look around the education offices, I give up. It is lunchtime and I am not likely to find her. I return to my seat. I get back up again and go in search of blank paper. (I’ll explain my method in detail.) Once said paper is located, I resume studying.
I begin the self-pep talk: Why should this be difficult? It’s not difficult material- it’ll be a quick test and I’ll still be in and out in thirty minutes, no sweat. I envision myself flying through the material, enjoying the test. (I enjoy tests sometimes. Shut up.) I see the goal clearly in sight. I’m ready. This will be no sweat and High School was a long time ago.
The words of my High School guidance counselor float in my ear, telling my I should be able to take a scantron because “you grow out of that sort of thing.” And while I know this is not the truth, I force myself to hold on to the words. “I’ve grown out of it. The time I took one I was fine.” (The last time was a twenty-question test for Intro to Theatre.)
Teacher came and introduced and began passing out scantrons. I’m fine. Then she passes out tests. Many pages stapled together. DO NOT LOOK at how many numbers. It will be a lot. I don’t even think about it- I launch back in to my old Standardized Test-habit.
What is my strategy? Here it is broken down step-by-step. I’ve refined it over much trial-and-error (more error than anything else.) Feel free to utilize when a scantron next crosses your path:
- 10 question blocks- They are already broken up in ten-question brackets, so this is easier. I also make slash marks on the paper test to keep them mirroring each other. (Do not ask me about when I’m not allowed to write on the test. WHOLE different level of difficulty.)
- Take blank paper and inch it down- bubble in one answer at a time.
- Double-check the answer to the question.
- Double check the letter I marked to answer the question. (This is where many of my mistakes occur.)
- Double check the question number I’m bubbling in before I mark. Check it again when it’s filled.
- Check I haven’t double-answered any question and move on to the next ten question block, setting aside the scantron as I resume the test.
Upsides: I’ve plugged up many of the holes in my system. This currently works to ensure that the answers I mean to put down are the ones I get graded for.
Downsides: It is mentally exhausting- I can’t get comfortable and I can’t let my guard down or enjoy the process. It breaks my concentration. I can’t get into a rhythm of answering the questions or recalling information. There is not getting “on a roll” when you are stopping every five minutes to do the detailed process of making sure you’re not screwing up. It assumes failure. And rightly so, because if I do not do EVERY step in THIS order, mistakes will be made and I will be given a grade I do not deserve. But this process confirms my suspicion that something is inherently wrong with me. And that is awful at any time and not particularly helpful when taking a test.
And it is unfair.
No student of any age should have to put themselves through this much just to accurately record the information they know. To non-LD students this process is a minor inconvenience. Some, I am sure, do not even think twice about it. But to those of us with a Learning Disability taking a Standardized Test there is whole other level of difficulty for us to participate. For us to even answer a question. And it is NOT, as my experience today shows, something that “goes away”. I am tormented by that voice in my head- that voice that, like my High School guidance counselor, says I am somehow wrong or unintelligent for my failure to take this kind of test with ease. That, if I am as mature as I claim to be I will not ask for special measures on my behalf and will struggle along and take what I get- which will be less than what I deserve.
It is less than I deserve because I am bright. I love to learn and take tests and be good at something. And I should never be shamed into being less than I am. I will not accept less than I deserve. And what I deserve is a chance to prove myself. It is what every student- regardless of race, gender, income or LD or other Disability deserves.
And I cannot afford to forget that.
Today I did not finish my 58-question test in 30 minutes, like I might have otherwise. In fact, I finished last. I am confident that I did well and that I answered everything to the best of my knowledge- I’ll get an A or a B on it. After my test I commented to my teacher that Dyslexia never really goes away. And she asked me if I’d had any difficulty and we talked a bit- ending with her offering to only grade the paper test and allowing me to skip the scantron in the future. And I feel good about it.
But going through the panic and frustration put me squarely back in my younger self- panicking and frustrated, trying to get through bubbling-in her answers. And the shame and self-sabotaging doubt and overwhelming sense of failure she experienced. When she never really had to experience those things at all.
And it motivates me to remind other little girls, boys and the adults they grew up into that it’s not just you. You are not alone and you are not stupid, just different.
And that is not bad.
Actual Disclaimer: I understand that the Scantron company is a company who makes products to benefit the education community. Their products are not in any way designed to harm Learning Disabled students, but are designed to benefit teachers and schools and make it possible for more students to be taught and tested more easily. The problems I have taking their tests are not their fault, but a result of something affecting me personally and my ability to take Standardized Tests in general. My characterization of Scantron tests really reflects my emotions towards my experiences with Standardized Tests, not Scantrons specifically.