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What it feels like to fail an exam

August 6, 2010

Today, I failed. Really hard.

In the past, I have said, “I think I failed that test,” but what I really always meant was “I think I got a B or B- on that test.” And usually, I still clung to hope that it might squeak by as a B+ or A-. But today, it was an F on the HSK exam, or the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi.

Failing an exam really is a lot like this video from CollegeHumor.com. I felt like that today.

Well… I’m misleading you all. Because this test doesn’t actually matter at all unless I do really well on it, this failure of mine is, in most ways meaningless. Therefore, it does not come with the pain, anxiety, disappointment, and regret I certainly would have felt failing a college exam. Also, every foreigner taking the HSK, no matter what her level of Chinese is, takes the same test. As someone who’s only studied Chinese for a year, I knew going into it that it would go badly.

But not that badly. Ouch.

Nonetheless, it was a novel experience in it’s own right, and as a good test taker at home, I got a different perspective on test taking. Some of the new things I experienced:

  • I didn’t understand most of the questions.
  • I didn’t understand most of the answer choices.
  • 90% of the listening comprehension sounded like gibberish.
  • I zoned out at least once ever 5 or 10 minutes.
  • I completley ignored all my standardized test-taking strategy and experience.
  • I only finished the listening section, because, well, you have to.
  • I guessed on probably 95% of the questions. I blind guessed on maybe 50% of them (meaning I didn’t even have a clue what the right answer was).
  • I contemplated just walking out a few times. Some other students did.
  • At times, I opted for amusing myself instead of actually trying to take the test.
  • I only very vaguely cared about any of this, sticking it out more for the principle of the thing than anything else.

Is this what it’s like to be an ESL student in the US stuck taking the PSAT? It’s probably close.

This experience has led me to the following conclusions and questions:

  • I still suck at Chinese.
  • If I want to not suck at Chinese, I have a very, very long way to go.
  • Do I want to keep studying Chinese in a classroom setting?
  • Standardized testing sucks a lot, in any country.

Never too late to experience something totally new, even in a very familiar setting.

Time to decompress by watching Top Chef. Mmmm, nothing like food to get your mind off of failure. (Warning: this approach to self-comfort may cause weight gain.)

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