- Mental Health
Test Dream Interpretation and Taking Tests in Dreams
Introduction to Test Dreams
Along with chase dreams and tooth loss dreams, bad dreams about test taking are some of the most commonly reported nightmares plaguing dreamers.
While the specific details of exam nightmares vary from dreamer to dreamer, there are some general themes test dreams share.
Some of the more common forms test taking nightmares take are:
- Being unprepared or completely unaware of a test or entire class
- Unable to recall test answers, sudden paralysis during a test
- Showing up for a test completely naked
- Test written in a language foreign to the dreamer
Aside from sharing common thematic content, test dreams also share a pervasive emotional tenor that lingers long after the nightmare fades.
Panic, fear, embarrassment--these emotions are part of an exam dream's typical register.
Here are some ideas designed to assist in the interpretation of test dreams and help readers discover the source of exam nightmares and possibly prevent their recurrence.
Sometimes a Test is Just a Test
While test dreams can and often do stand in for hidden feelings or carry some symbolic importance, it may very well be that a dream test is simply a test--especially if one is enrolled in classes or is actually undergoing some sort of evaluation.
Dreams speak more plainly and clearly more so at some times than others. Some of the most plaintive dreams are those known as "anxiety dreams."
Anxiety dreams are those that occur during a time of stress. About the only symbolic thing found in anxiety dreams is the level of the dreamer's anxiety about whatever the event provoking the dream.
People getting married often dream of wedding disasters, expecting parents dream of problems with the pregnancy, and academicians will dream of testing horrors.
If involved in the academic arena, nightmares about exams may simply be an expression of anxiety regarding scholarly pursuits. Similarly, if one is undergoing a workplace performance review, test dreams can reflect anxiety over job performance.
If exam nightmares turn into recurrent night terrors, it might be time to turn to a professional to help alleviate some anxiety. One's academic resource center, a guidance counselor, or company Employee Assistance Program may be a great resource to utilize for help.
Dreams About Being Unprepared or Unaware of a Test
While anxiety dreams involving tests are common among those involved in academics and are usually simply an expression of performance anxiety, dream themes common to academicians are also common to those outside the academic arena.
One such dream is the dream of showing up unprepared for or unaware of an exam.
The nightmare of the unknown exam is also a manifestation of anxiety, but the anxiety is completely unrelated to the taking of an actual test. In these dreams, it is anxiety itself that is being expressed.
Anxiety is, in short, fear of the future. It is a fear that something horrible, some unnameable catastrophe is lurking in the shadows, bringing with it certain disaster.
Generalized anxiety has no actual form in waking life, therefore, when it manifests in dreams, it takes the form of those situations and activities that provoke similarly generalized anxious feelings.
Dreams about showing up unprepared for a test, finding out there is an exam that one was unaware of are, or even dreams of forgetting an entire class, are perfect articulations of formless fear. They are perfect because a test or class forgotten means that there is no way to prepare--the dreamer will, most certainly, fail the test or class.
Dreams like those listed are perfect articulations of exactly what the dreamer fears most--that no matter what one does, one can never prepare for everything. No matter how careful, how cautious, how diligent or hyper-vigilant, there is always some unforeseen something that will bring about ruin.
Dreams of Test Paralysis and Memory Lapse
Another common testing dream is the one wherein one is prepared for a test, knows the answers, but either cannot recall them or becomes paralyzed during the exam.
The symbolism in these dreams contrasts somewhat from the being unprepared for an exam nightmare. Being prepared, but suddenly forgetting or becoming paralyzed points to some situation in waking life wherein one knows what the correct response should be, but wherein one also finds one's self completely unable to render that response.
The difference between being unprepared and unable to respond is similar to the difference between "choking" and "panicking."
One panics when placed in a situation for which one has no foundation for comparison. Panic occurs in totally unfamiliar territory. Panic is the predominant feeling in an unpreparedness dream.
Choking, however, is a phenomenon that occurs in situations for which one is completely prepared, Choking takes place in those altogether familiar arenas, in those places where one feels most comfortable. Choking is, in essence, a form of self-sabotage.
Dreams about test paralysis or sudden memory lapse are dreams of choking, not panic. Self-sabotage is not as uncommon as one may think. Oftentimes when one achieves something one has always wanted, even worked hard to achieve, or is on the precipice of such an achievement, one will, oddly enough, do something to shoot one's self in the foot.
Part of the reason for this phenomenon is, once again, anxiety. Achievement brings change, accomplishment brings change, getting what one wants brings change. Change brings fear--fear of how one will cope with something new, fear that one will lose what has finally been attained.
If dreams about test paralysis or memory lapse occur, it may be helpful to look to waking life and see if there is anything going on that might provoke unconscious self-sabotage and prevent its occurrence.
Showing Up Naked for a Test in Dreams
Dreams wherein one shows up naked for a test takes the anxiety theme and ups it several notches.
However, wherein dreams about being unprepared for a test symbolize fears of unpreparedness for life in general, showing up for exams unclothed are a bit different. In the naked test dream, the overall theme is not so much that one is unprepared as one is exposed.
Dream nudity in general carries with it feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability, but when it occurs in conjunction with testing, it symbolizes fears that one is impotent, that a faceless force is standing in judgement and one is coming up completely lacking. These dreams can occur when one is being hypercritical of one's self, when one secretly feels or fears that one is a fraud.
Dreams Involving Tests Written in a Foreign Language
Dreams about tests in a foreign language most likely symbolically mirror a waking life situation--a situation that the dreamer feels is all together incomprehensible.
The situation the dream is mirroring may be one that used to make sense to the dreamer, but which, for some reason, has moved into unfamiliar territory.
For example, one may have previously felt secure at work, but the addition of a new supervisor or co-worker or the creation of new workplace ideologies may have left one feeling as if he or she barely recognizes the place anymore.
Dreams of tests in languages foreign to the dreamer may also symbolize communication difficulties, especially with a significant other.
A relationship that one may have been comfortable with may now be rife with difficulty or unforeseen problems.
One may feel that one is "failing" one's partner, unable to figure out what is necessary to make things right.
If this is the case, it may be helpful to speak to one's partner and confess one's inability to communicate. It may sound obvious, but the obvious is oftentimes that which is most often overlooked.