Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Back on Track...or Something

Wow! I was able to pass the Life & Health Insurance test last week. Thanks to all for the PMA and congratulations. I am most appreciative.

I was trying to figure out why I was so nervous about taking that exam. My conclusion, it has something to do with the experience I had taking my very first insurance exam….and a really ugly picture of me.

About 5 years ago I decided to take the P&C exam. Well, I realized that if I wanted to move up from the underworld of data entry, I needed to become a licensed insurance professional.

I signed up for the review class, got the giant book and I read it every night. When I say giant book, I mean 2 1/2 inch thick paper manual that is crammed full of every bit of knowledge one would need to know for said test. It even tells you right in the front cover, something like "This book contains everything you need to know for the test. There is minimal extemporaneous material". Which I would later learn means "know it all...or else".

Then I took the review class. This is a two-day adventure where an instructor reads the book to you and 50 of your closest friends and explains the innermost details of insurance rules and laws and details the difference between sexy words like peril, hazard, and indemnity. I then scheduled my exam and got to reading the test-taking rules. Fresh out of undergrad and still enrolled in graduate school I figured I had a leg up. I was used to studying and taking exams. I figured, it would be no problem to be sent into a dark room to sit at one of those crappy orange computer terminals and answer multiple choice questions for 3 hours.

I think you know where I'm going with this. The first time I took that P&C exam I failed. FAIL. See, the previous years of my education had been spent getting the "big picture", reading and interpreting literature, making inferences out of the news and using facts to create and write my own opinions on such topics as media bias, advertising in the post-war era, and this emerging media trend which would eventually become Web 2.0. My brain had been co-opted by a "Northeast liberal-arts education" and I was no match for a 4 part multiple choice test. I failed by something like 3 points in both Massachusetts Law sections. I was devastated.

The devastation stemmed from two distinct areas in my heart. Firstly, I loathe to do anything wrong, EVER. I believe they call that fear of failure or perfectionism or maybe just plain old Northeast snobbery. The second was the part of me that under no circumstances wanted to study, think about, or even look at that insurance manual ever again. In fact I had been told that the manual was ONLY for the test and was not suitable reference material for the office environment. I was looking forward to hoisting the book over the wall of the dumpster out back.

However, I had FAILED which meant more studying. I re-took the super fun review class, and started doing nightly practice tests. I would go on to memorize more useless knowledge than I ever had before. Approximately 3 weeks later I walked back into that creepy dark room lit by the glow of the orange computer terminals and kicked that exams ass. Well, I passed. After you got the big PASS you didn't get a point break down, just a piece of paper that said PASS! It’s good enough, but I’ll never know if I passed by 3 points or 30.

When I decided to take the Life Insurance exam about 6 weeks ago I started down the same path with a giant book to learn. It all felt eerily similar to me, despite passing a whole bunch of insurance exams since that first fateful FAIL. As the date of the exam approached I was increasingly nervous about the material. Increasingly worried about the prospect of failure.

In that last week I made time for little else besides studying. The husband was kind enough to walk the dogs and make himself dinner while I read about annuities and medicare. In my quest for uncertainty avoidance I had read all the test-taking rules. I had my photo ID, my calculator and nothing else with me when I walked into the testing office. The woman there said she was going to take my photo to verify that it was actually me, but never said "say cheese". She chatted with me for a minute and then sat me down at my assigned computer station in the test room. No more orange computer terminals. The proctor hit a few keys and said "Okay, you are all set". She walked away. I looked up at the screen and was met with this:

The clock was already counting down (1:59:32) and all I could think about was “why is ugly me watching me take this test”. I hoped it wasn’t an omen for ugly results. Fortunately, it wasn't, and I learned that I should probably smile more, even when I'm stressed out.

Now onto other things like our office move, Thanksgiving, and high school reunions.

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