Have you ever had the feeling where you just feel so scared out of your mind that you feel miniscule in the face of something huge? Well, that was me at the exams.
To help you understand what kind of pressure the Italian State exams put on fragile fourteen-year-olds, I will explain how everything works.
The 8th grade final exams are divided into two phases: the written and the very infamous orals (and I will explain why).
Phase 1 is easy enough to understand. It’s a series of written tests that test you on how much you’ve learned so far during the year. It focuses more on the techniques you’ve learned so you can’t study for them. For me it was 6 tests that spanned over the course of 5 days, Tuesday through Saturday (and you’re already feeling bad for me).
Day 1: Essay in Italian. This targets my main struggle in Italian public school, and that is expressing myself in correct grammar in an essay. I may get good grades in Italian grammar tests, but putting it into action is extremely difficult. The professors give you four hours to write an essay from start to finish, writing a rough draft first to make your corrections on and then rewriting everything you just wrote on a corrected draft (ridiculous, I know). BUT!! (there must always be a “BUT!!”) you are first handed three envelopes, each containing three essay assignments. You will pick one of them at random and then choose which of the three assignments you feel most prepared for. However, my nervousness for that day completely altered my perception of time. Mere five minutes felt like twenty! Also, the whole envelope madness NEVER happened: the teachers only gave us one because everyone was running out of time just to start the test. I managed to write it all down in three hours and leave the room before I was the last one remaining. From here, things went downhill on the difficulty level.
|This is me arriving home after Day 1 of exams|
Day 2: French. In this test I had the decision between responding to comprehension questions on a paragraph in French or writing a letter to a hypothetical friend in French. I chose the letter, and I pretty much had this one covered.
Day 3: Invalsi tests. The “Invalsi” are a form of national Italian testing that is split in two between Math and Italian. You have 75 minutes to complete each test, which is a very tight time budget. It heavily tests your logic and attention span as the test was specifically designed to fool you. In the Math test I obviously had to respond to 29 Arithmetic/Geometry questions, which was easier said than done. Once I was done with the test there were literally thirty seconds left on the clock. It’s kind of like those shows on Food Network. Once the time is done, you have to have hands up, close the test, and give it immediately to the teacher. Fortunately there was a fifteen-minute recess for everyone so they can recover. The Italian test is divided into three parts: the first two are comprehension questions on excerpts from a narrative book and a research paper, and the third is questions on Italian grammar. Ironically, I had this one done 15 minutes in advance. Oh, the list was posted this day for the oral exams giving both dates and times for the 150 8th graders undergoing examination.
Day 4: English. I’m not even going to be talking about this one.
Day 5: Math/Technological Drawing. In this one I had to solve one geometry question, three equations and do a technological drawing of a parallelogram. Sound easy? Well, actually it was. I was one of the first people to finish.
Phase 2. Oh, phase 2 how much I hated preparing for you. The oral exam requires the students to study the entire program for every subject, which is 90+ units of information!! If that wasn’t enough, you also need to prepare a presentation on a topic of your choice, connecting it with all ten subjects, writing a thesis complete with a PowerPoint. For example, history was connected by discussing the Cold War, music I talked about Bob Dylan and was prepared to play "Blowin' in the Wind" on my recorder, physical education I talked about hockey and the famous game between USA and USSR called "Miracle on Ice", geography I focused on the USA, English I talked about the Marshall Plan, Literature I talked about a period author and his works...you get the idea of everything having to connect to the Cold War. This is why everyone who has done this exam hates it, and why every student who hasn’t done it yet dreads it.
I started writing my thesis two weeks before the end of school (when most of my classmates had already finished theirs) and I completed the PowerPoint only after Day 5 of my written exams. My thesis ended up being 35 pages long. The presentation also had to be within a forty-minute time limit. I started practicing presenting my work Sunday, which was right before the exam day (I was tested on Monday afternoon). The first time I tried presenting, it came out as an hour and a half long. The second time it was one hour. No matter how hard I tried that day it could never be less than an hour.
But I’ve had some amazing support from my family, friends, even prayers from people I don’t even know. Sunday night I was feeling slightly better when my dad said, “I have no doubts in you”. At least eight people from Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville were gathered to pray for me during my exam time. It was comforting to think about, but the “Why me?” question was always dogging me. It wasn’t that I didn’t accept this prayer, but I just felt I was taking too much attention, possibly distracting them from people who need it far more than me. The people who prayed for me, if you’re reading this post now I want to say that words can’t describe how humbled I am that you care about my life and I really appreciate all of your prayers.
However, the next morning I was cracking under the stress. I woke up at 6 in the morning and I prayed for a full two hours. I started practicing in front of my mom, but I constantly blanked out and then just broke down in tears.
If I’m breaking down in front my own mother, who knows what I’ll do in front of the profs?
Then a friend of mine was giving me updates on how the orals went for other people. They all said it was easy, but I wasn’t sure I could believe them struggling as much as I was just preparing for it.
|Oh my nerves having to wait to be called in! I was 2nd for the afternoon group of testing.|
However, once I stepped inside the room I was filled with a strange feeling of calm that almost felt like it wasn’t mine. Seeing the familiar faces of my teachers that I’ve had for the past three years helped, coupled with the fact that I would get some room (I am claustrophobic around people). They were complimenting the fact that I was well prepared for this exam (well, duh. Isn’t that what they want?). Plugging in the flash drive, I started presenting my thesis.
|I was thankful they let me sit down since it was like 90° in the room!|
|My French Professor asked me to stand as I recited a|
poem in French and spoke about the author and meaning
of the poem all in French.
I was silently surprised by the fact I spoke with authority in Italian, English AND French. In the end I was only asked a few things about my thesis. I never even got to present all of it as the 35 minutes flew by. They could have asked me questions outside my thesis on things I’ve learned the past year because they have the authority to do so. But they didn’t and they just let me go.
It’s over… It’s finally over!!!
The feeling of that heavy weight lifted from my back was indescribable. I was just so overjoyed, beyond giddy.
Now that I think about what happened during that exam, I noticed that I couldn’t have done that on my own at all. The authority that I spoke with, the confidence I had didn’t come from me, but from the Holy Spirit.
Again, a shoutout to everyone who prayed for me: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PRAYERS!!!
|Celebrating with a much deserved gelato!|
(Forgive the crazy eyes; I was literally mad with joy)
STAY TUNED FOR THE RESULTS