Every now and then, I’m sitting in an examination room at my old English school. There’s been some problem with my A-Level exams, and they’ve asked me to re-sit the History exam some 20 years later to prove it was really me who took the original exam. I am trying my best to write essays about Louis XIV and Oliver Cromwell, but I really can’t remember anything except the vaguest details. Sometimes my right arm is broken, so that I’m having trouble writing with any speed. Or sometimes I’m nude, and it’s terribly cold, distracting and uncomfortable.
And then…I wake up. I don’t know why History always features in this dream, as it was a subject I loved and I don’t recall having any difficulty in the real A-Level History examination, in which I did very well. But clearly there’s some residual anxiety about it somewhere in my subconscious.
I was reminded of this dream when I read this article in the newspaper; apparently I’m not alone by any stretch:
Between 20 and 50 per cent of people have had at least one exam dream, said Deirdre Barrett, the author of The Committee of Sleep and assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
“These dreams continue decades after finishing formal education, but occur at times they’re facing scrutiny or evaluation by others, especially authority figures,” Dr Barrett said.
In the final months before submitting the PhD, I had the “re-sitting the A-Level History exam” dream every second or third night, despite telling people about it, which usually works to dispel recurrent nightmares. If it wasn’t that, it was the freaking “teeth falling out” dream (I hate that dream – where your teeth suddenly wobble and start falling out of your mouth). Fortunately, once I handed in the PhD, the nightmares stopped, and have pretty much stayed away since, apart from the occasional “going to work/out in public with no clothes on” dream.
Does anyone else have recurring nightmares of this nature? If so – what examinations feature in your nightmares? Was it a subject which you really struggled in, or was it one where you did fine in real life? Hope that my students aren’t suffering any nightmares on account of the subject I’m teaching them…!