What it really means when you dream about tests

Ugh, the dreaded test dream. It’s always the same — you realize that you have to take a test, and not just a pop quiz, but some kind of huge make-it-or-break-it final exam. Your grade, your diploma, your entire future hinges on this test, and yet… there’s a problem. Not only didn’t you study for the test, but you didn’t even remember ever enrolling in the course. As far as you can recall, you’ve never attended a single class, haven’t done any of the readings, and are completely unfamiliar with the subject, but there’s no help for it, you’ve still got to take the test.

Failure is not only not impossible, it’s downright inevitable. And if your subconscious is really, really out to get you, you may also have to go to the bathroom or even realize that you’ve shown up to take the test buck naked. Why would you dream such a thing?

Possible interpretations of the test dream

Dream Moods points out the obvious fact that dreaming of a test you haven’t studied for means that you feel unprepared for some (or all) of the changes that life is throwing at you. You are lacking in confidence, and are afraid you’re going to be judged and found wanting. They also suggest it’s possible you may be setting your sights too high, since you yourself have created some unrealistic goal you’re unlikely to attain.

Aunty Flo’s Dream Dictionary offers a more positive interpretation, at least in the rare instance you should dream of a test where you actually pass. This may be an indicator that positive changes are underway in your life, and that you are ready to take on new challenges and overcome any difficulties in store in the future. They do make mention, however, of the meaning attached to any factors that may prevent you from completing the exam, such as your pen leaking or your exam booklet not containing all of the questions. If any external factors prevent you from achieving success, this may mean you’re feeling inadequate in a work situation, although it could also mean that your efforts are being hampered by the intervention of others.

Why do we have test dreams?

Unlike certain other common dreams such as ones about water or fire, it’s pretty certain that the test-taking dream isn’t one we’re born with, nor is it some kind of genetic memory that’s been passed down from our ancestors. Psychology Today notes that dreaming about tests typically does not start before high school, and maybe not until after college, but that these dreams often involve being tested in a subject that the dreamer found difficult while in school. Additional anecdotal evidence collected by neurologist and teacher Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed. suggests that test dreams do not really trouble anyone raised in a society that is less obsessed with high-stakes testing than the U.S. has been over the past few decades. She suggests that the American education system’s over-focus on testing may not only be draining all of the joy out of learning, but could even be robbing us of a good night’s sleep.

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