Bound to my high school scars

I’m a 48-year-old woman and I still get regular nightmares about having to study for high school or university exams. I’ve been scarred for life.

I can’t imagine that this is how things should be. I’ve heard from several friends that they have similar nightmares. I’m thinking it might be safe to assume that there are lots of people out there who also have these nightmares.

I’d like to blame our educational systems for this. There’s just too much emphasis on test results. In most countries in the world, your entire future depends on the results you get on exams you take when you’re nearing the age of 18. Most 18-year-olds have absolutely no idea what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

When I was 18, I wanted to get into something sciency. I wanted to end up doing research. I wanted to spend my life looking into microscopes. I got great grades. I went to medical school. I got pretty good grades, never lower than a B. But afterwards, I never went further than finishing my year of internship. By then, all I wanted in life was to be a mama and have lots of children. Fast forward a few years, I decided that I actually do want to work, or that I MUST work, but I had no idea what I wanted to work as. Out of the blue and at the right time in my life I was offered the chance to start writing about science so I gave it a go. And BAM! My passion stumbled right into me and we fell in love. I was 35. I had never considered writing about anything as a way to make a living. I had never even done any kind of writing. I had no idea it was something I could enjoy so much.

Sometime in my later 30s, I decided to study for a master’s degree in journalism. I NEVER get nightmares about having to study for master’s exams. I was going through a very rough patch during that phase of my life. I wasn’t in a good place at all, although I was trying very hard to be. In most ways, my later 30s could be considered the worst phase of life I’ve been through so far. Yet I never get master’s degree exam nightmares.

What nightmares do I get? Nightmares about high school and university exams that I haven’t prepared for. Nightmares about missing classes. I get those a lot. In so many of my nightmares, I’m not interested in attending classes. Or I can’t seem to get hold of my class schedule so I have no idea where to go.

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, something I do all the time anyways, I could put those nightmares down to high school being an incomplete phase of my life. I had two years of high school in America before we suddenly left and jetted off to the Middle East. My nightmares are related to my American school exams that I never took. I never get nightmares about the British O-level exams that I did take while in Saudi Arabia and that got me into university in Egypt.

But I do get nightmares about university exams. I completed those. I got decent grades. I got through university as well as one could expect. I wonder sometimes if I might have had mild depression towards the very end of my university years. But other than feeling a bit down and disliking all the exam stress crap, I was fine. I got through it.

I was stressed doing my British O-levels. I was stressed and going through utter crap later in life studying for my master’s degree. But I don’t get nightmares about them.

Maybe it’s the sense of incompleteness? I didn’t finish high school in America. I finished med school in Egypt but I didn’t work as a physician. Maybe that’s what makes those two phases in particular nightmare-worthy for me.

Or MAYBE it’s simply that too much stress is placed on this whole exam process when we’re so young and undecided about what we want to do in life.

In my case, it’s probably a combination of all that.

But what it makes me think about is my own children and all the stress I know they feel because of the ‘requirement’ that they finish high school and university at the very least, and if possible that they get good grades so that they have more choice in life.

Are we perpetually bound to being scarred by exams, one generation after another after another?

I hope my kids find their way. I hope they somehow find their passions.

I wish there was a way to get there without hating a large part of the process that leads up to it.



  1. I do get these dreams a lot. Usually I’m in the exam hall thinking I’ll take an exam in English for example and suddenly it’s in Arabic instead and I spend the whole dream thinking how did this happen. I feel stressed and anxious until I finally remember that I don’t study Arabic or English now. I should be studying Physiology or Anatomy then it hits me that I already finished my master degree :). It’s always my secondary school final exams. I once read this actually happens when we under a lot of stress. I just hate these nightmares.

  2. The education systems are terrible. I’m being punished for decisions I made at 14. I have to redo my math IG now, 16 years later so that I can get into the university course I want to peruse my passion to teach in an educational system that is slightly less horrific than many others.
    The whole thing needs to change globally.

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