Lanah Kopplin will be contributing columns to DCI.org each Tuesday. Here's her fourth installment. I've never had someone run out of a room in tears as the result of an exam before. I guess now I can check that one off of my list.
Yesterday I took my linguistics midterm. It was supposed to be the world's easiest midterm. After all, it was an open notes exam. We were allowed to use anything, except for the actual textbook. However, if we were smart enough to make a photocopy of any or all parts of the book, it would be allowed as well. We were told that the exam would cover only those things covered in lecture and discussion. If it was in our reading, but not covered in class, it would not appear on the midterm. Like any good student, I put off studying until the night before. Then, I devoted my entire evening and night to typing up and organizing my notes, for easy access at my disposal. I also reviewed all of the homework handouts, and even reread parts of the book! Although I was feeling quite confident in my abilities on the exam, I photocopied all of the charts in my book, just in case. Boy, am I glad that I did! I've taken some hard exams before, some approaching the border of ridiculousness. This one not only crossed that line, but jumped over, picked it up, and threw it 20 feet back. There was a collective gasp in the room as we all looked over the questions for the first time. And second time. And third. This midterm threw everyone off guard. As I sat down and read through the exam, I had to literally reread every question at least three times to figure out exactly what the problem was asking. There were terms that weren't in my notes, nor in my homework sets, and concepts that were completely foreign to me (as well as the rest of the class). There was an uneasy tension throughout the lecture hall as we all tried to fight our way through this beast. This is where my drum corps training kicked in. Instead of panicking, I forced myself to calm down, relax and think clearly. After four years of marching euphonium, I've become pretty good at that whole "mind over matter" concept. And trust me, forcing your muscles to relax in a lecture hall is much easier than forcing them to relax in your second hour of basics. Then it was time to clear my head. I remembered something that one of our brass staff had told us during lap seven of a tracking block: "We're not going to stop until we're done, so you might as well give it your best." The same concept was true here. My opinions about the midterm weren't going to change it in the least bit. So, all I could do was buckle down and do it. To become successful in both drum corps and schoolwork involves a balance of methodical hard work and passion. You have to know the right times to get emotional, and recognize the times when emotions can get in the way. Becoming emotional won't clean that set of drill, or make Bob Smith put our horns down any sooner. However, channeling that emotion into the rational realm can work to your benefit. During basics, when the drill doesn't seem to end, and my arms are burning with pain, I've learned to channel that anger and frustration into my marching. Those are the times when you stand up a little straighter, roll your toes a little higher, and make an even sharper direction change. Instead of focusing on the emotion, focus on every last detail, and make sure that they are absolutely perfect. This is what I did yesterday on my exam. Unlike the poor girl who just couldn't handle the stress, I channeled my frustration into the test. That's where the charts came in handy. I looked over every last letter of my notes, every last number on those charts, and scrutinized every single homework problem and handout that I had ever received. And suddenly, the exam wasn't so hard. Slowly, methodically, I pushed myself through question after question. If I didn't understand the first time, I went on to another problem and then came back. Just like in drill, you can't clean the whole thing at once. And usually, when one set cleans up, the sets around it do as well. Once I figured out what one question was asking, it made the questions around it seem that much easier. Who knew that those test taking skills would actually work? When time was finally called, we all put our exams into their proper locations and left the room. The sad silence was deafening. You could just see the defeat on some of these students' faces. It was silent as we walked through the building, until suddenly another girl burst out in tears. That's when everyone finally got up the nerve to start talking. Guys started complaining about questions, girls started asking each other what they put for answers, and everyone was in agreement that they had failed the exam. Thanks to my drum corps training, I had come out on top. Even if my test score doesn't put me at the head of the class, I came out of that stressful situation with my wits still about me. And besides, if everyone thinks that they failed the exam, maybe I'll be the one to break the curve. Lanah Kopplin is a third-year euphonium player in the Phantom Regiment, and previously spent a year with the Pioneer. Lanah is a political science major at the University of Wisconsin (she's a Milwaukee native), and will age out in 2005. Past columns by Lanah Kopplin: Here's to the behind-the-scenes people Drum corps friendships A new column by the Phantom Regiment's Lanah Kopplin