We arrived early at the testing location and my professional exam reader had not shown up. In fact, the proctor was twenty minutes late. During those twenty minutes, I hinged my success or failure on the exam results as direct reflections on my career prospects, my efforts to prepare for each course, my intelligence, and my worth as a person. My core insecurity was after all the struggles, could I back up the bravado about my abilities. I took teacher certification and GRE exams but this carried more weight.
The desire to run blindly away or burst into tears was so powerful that the indecision kept me paralyzed. As the reader showed up, my mood lightened up as the native Texan eased my fears after I heard his clear pronunciation.
During the last two years, every Social Work exam was completed on my computer. Having a human proctor was nerve racking. “Would they keep a mental tally of how I am doing? Will they check the correct box?” I lathered into a volley of “What if” questions.
Shuttled off to a private room, the testing center would audio & video the exam along with recording my answers. The proctor began to read the computer screen. On top of the profuse number of prayers I had said, I got in one last one as I meekly said, “I’m ready.”
The first five questions went smoothly until I noticed the proctor had switched words. The first time he read the question with the word “discuss” as part of the sentence. The second pass morphed to “disclose”. Had someone been monitoring my hemispheric activity, there were more electric strikes than a Texas thunderstorm. The entire meaning of the question had shifted. Knowing I had only answered five out of 170 questions. Each grain of sand that fell through the hourglass seemed to weigh my hope down. I had the proctor run through the question a few more times until “disclose” had been repeated the most times.
Rather than read A, B, C, or D, the proctor only said the answers. One answer option was “Transactional” followed by the next option of “Analysis”. Together, I heard “Transactional Analysis” which is a legitimate answer. I felt a cold bead of sweat slide from my neck down my back and the contrast made me shutter. “This question only has three answer choices?” I puzzled out loud. The proctor stated there were four choices and said the answers once more.
I attempted to remain calm and role model how I would like the answers read back to me. “So, ‘A’ is…’B’ is…” The proctor continued to mash the answers together. Occasionally, I could not tell when the question ended and the answers began.
The proctor could not find what number question we were on. An increased frequency of word fumbles became common place. My optimism had all been drained from each pore.
I hit a threshold and my confidence in the answers had drifted. I pondered, “If the testing center is monitoring, how come they have not come in and replaced this proctor. Should I stop the test and let them know what has happened thus far?” My insecurities infiltrated my thought patterns and I had tremendous difficulty comprehending the questions.
Reasonably deducting that I had missed more than half, the proctor destroying each question, and the insurmountable number of questions left, I wanted to throw in the towel. “Since I’ll have to take this again, I might as well hear the rest of the questions,” I decided.
My sense of humor washed over my fears as I started to count how many errors the proctor would make on each question. This distraction actually served to keep me focused. I paid attention to what the proctor said and decoded what the question plainly asked.
At the last question, an overwhelming feeling of relief and dread showered me. My hands burned like I was digging for the last Diet Dr Pepper in a deep cooler of ice water. I heard my heart pound. I just knew I missed the mark but I was dying to know by how many questions.
The testing center monitor came in and escorted the proctor and I to the front. The proctor signed out and stood in front of me. I asked the testing center staff person if I could find out the results. As I was handed my results, I asked, “Did I pass?”
“We are not allowed to verbalize if a candidate has passed. I am sorry.” she said with a genuine tone.
With my persuasive smile and the most pathetic expression I could muster, “Could I waive that right and ask for an accommodation please??
The staff person leaned in and whispered “You passed.”
It was as if my body had just walked outside on an August summer day in Texas. I felt the rush of blood return to my hands, my face burned red, and I could not stop smiling.
I left the testing center and found a quiet place in a hallway. I sat on the floor and wept. I had done it. The little boy inside of me stood taller. I had joined the legacy of remarkable role models and agents of change. In my soul, a flag of victory had been raised up. In that moment, I became a Social Worker.
I called my wife, Jennifer. I cried so hard and vapor locked as she answered. I shared that I passed the licensing exam, “We did it.” Anyone married to a graduate student should earn an honorary degree for the support. Jennifer played so many roles to keep me focused, motivated, and prepared.
Twenty minutes of breathing deeply and sighing, curiosity swelled and I returned to the testing center. The staff person saw me opened the door, called out my name, and asked me to stay in the hallway. “I know what this is about,” she reassured me. “The testing monitor observed your exam from the beginning and called me over. She was alarmed by the proctor’s errors and mishandling of the exam. We are filing a grievance with the Social Work Board.”
“You all knew he was messing things up at the beginning? Why didn’t you stop the test?” I inquired with befuddlement.
As she explained the legal ramifications of halting an exam, once an exam has started, any disruption would nullify the exam. I would have had to reschedule in 90 days and advocate aggressively to get my fees returned and applied for the new exam. Luckily the high from my success squelched any feelings of injustice. The proctor would be banned for the failure to read the exam accurately. With the knowledge no other candidate would have to endure that lack of competence. Her reassurance left a sense of validation.
In the days and months that followed, I grew grateful for what I experienced. I would never want to deal with the confusion over the wording of the questions. I was forced to decipher the whole question. I explored the use of each word choice and determined if the proctor had replaced the word subconsciously, or, more accurately, unconsciously.
No client or employer may comprehend what it took to earn my Licensed Master of Social Work. I will know exactly what I had to do. One year to the day, it remains the proudest professional achievement. Personally, it serves to remind me that I am worthwhile. I do have value. I would not change a thing. I am a stronger person without my sight than I was as a sighted person.