This week brought the event I call the “exam double header.” Physics on Thursday, biology on Friday – but wait, there’s more! This time around we have an organic exam the following week. (It was supposed to be on Monday, but our professor took pity on us and is letting us choose a different day of the week to take it.)

As the stress bears down, all of my hidden (or not so) neuroses rise to the surface. My nails are bitten to the quick, my sleeping patterns become erratic, and my humor becomes biting and uncensored.

I also become seriously superstitious.

Most of the time I am an extremely logical person. And as an extremely logical person, I know that my performance on an exam is in no way determined by the clothing I wear or  the desk at which I choose to sit. Yet, like competitors the world over, on the day of a particularly nerve wracking test (read: every physics test I have and ever will take), I find myself locked in to particular pre-test rituals.

If you were to ask me, even in the midst of performing these rituals, if I thought they had any effect on my grades, I could honestly tell you that, no, mostly my performance on exams is a result of a lot of hard work and a few test-taking strategies I’ve picked up along the way. Furthermore, there is no particular custom that I actually attribute any value to; it’s more a need to cover all of my bases than faith any any particular practice.

Psychologically this makes a lot of sense; humans have a habit of relying on ceremony when the outcome is uncertain. “No atheists in a foxhole,” right? Sports figures and fighters are renowned for having good luck charms. My reliance on objects and actions that are supposedly “lucky” are in inverse correlation with how much control I feel over the test I’m facing. Physics tests get the full treatment, but at this point I can face down most biology exams without too much pomp and circumstance.

Lest you think that I’m spending my pre-test mornings praying over an alter to the gods of mathematics, let me assure you that most of my rituals are small things. I listen to certain songs as I’m getting ready, choose a certain spot in the room to take the test. If I did poorly on an exam on a day when I wore a certain article of clothing or jewelry (and remember picking it out) I bypass it the next time around. I discard anything I feel might have jinxed me. A few times I brought along “good luck” charms to chemistry tests over the summer; after a mediocre grade on one final exam I started leaving them at home.

The funny part is that between tests these compulsions lose their power over me. I look back on my successes and failures over the course of the past year and at no point do I think, “Oh well that only happened because I did/didn’t honor my good luck ritual.” Yet the moment that pre-test anxiety hits, I cling to them as the faint assurance that everything will work out somehow.

There are two major tenets to my pre-exam ritual. The first is not to tell anyone the exact make-up of any ritual. (I’m taking a big risk with this blog entry, you should know.) The other is hubris goes before the fall. And thus is my conundrum, for I fear that the moment I leave my superstitions by the wayside I will finally discover their power.

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