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The Test Part Two: My World Revolved Around Index Cards

Author’s Note: Hi, it’s me. If you read Part One and thought to yourself, “Wow, this is entralling! I can’t wait to read more!” or, “Huh, this is mildly interesting,” or even, “Well, if I stop reading now, I’ll have to get up and take a shower,” then welcome back, and thanks for sticking with me. If you’re just joining us, I highly suggest that you back up a step and read Part One, otherwise what follows is going to make no fucking sense. Unless you like being confused, in which case, don’t let me clarify things for you. Either way, welcome.


All I had to do to pass my ETCP test was teach myself everything that I didn’t know.

So I just…started. I read one book, then another. And another. Concepts built on top of each other, and my understanding got more and more thorough and complex. But the process was tedious and long. I had no syllabus to follow that would guarantee that I would learn everything that I needed to. When you take a course, (in theory) you learn only that which is deemed valuable, and that which isn’t important isn’t discussed. If something is confusing, you can ask your professor to elaborate or clarify. I had none of those things. I had a lot of books, some of which were out of date or poorly written. I had a mountain of information, and only a vague sense of which bits of it would be valuable and which weren’t necessary to know. In the beginning, this wasn’t too much of an issue; at that point it was almost all valuable, and anything that I didn’t understand I could have explained to be more completely by either Kyle (who’s high school mentor did more than any college to teach him about electrical theory and the application of power) or my father, the Electrical Engineer. (God, the number of times I called my dad and asked him to explain some electrical theory, or why two books seemed to have dissenting points. We bonded a lot over the experience, laughing over the way that his industry uses power by the milliamp, while I regularly tie in to a 400 amp service.)

But before long, there came a point when I asked Kyle to explain a topic to me, and he simply shook his head and said, “I don’t know, Steph, I never learned that stuff.” My dad sometimes had difficulty digging up the finer points a theory that he’d learned almost 30 years ago.  And then there were topics, like the equation used to appropriately size a generator, where neither of them had experience. That’s when I felt the most hopeless. Spending hours dredging through the results of a google search, reading material that wasn’t written for my application or my industry, hoping to stumble upon the answer I was looking for, my task felt impossibly mountainous.  And let’s not even talk about my (not entirely unfounded) fear that I was learning equations and theories incorrectly.

For a long time, studying consumed my time and my focus. When I wasn’t creeping through books, I was reviewing note cards. Note cards, I learned back in high school, are the most valuable learning tool for a person like me who needs repetition to really drive a concept home. Each fact that I read that I thought might be valuable or useful was fashioned into a question and written on a note card, the answer on the back. At first, I reviewed my stack of note cards at the beginning of every study session, hoping to review old information before adding new. But then it started taking me over an hour to get through my stack, so reviewing note cards became its own activity. Before long, it was taking me over two hours to get through the stack, so I started breaking it up into multiple stacks that I would alternate reviewing. I studied those goddamn note cards continuously. In the car, during meals at work, at home, at the track between races, during intermission (or really boring shows) at work, while I was making dinner, on the stepper machine at the gym…every moment of my life during which my brain wasn’t otherwise occupied, I was murmuring questions and answers to myself and flipping over the card to either confirm my answer or review the correct answer. Sometimes, I would mix things up by posing each question to one of my cats, then correcting their answer with the actual one. (Somehow, the answer was never, “Ignore me and continue to lick your own ass.”

All told, I don’t know exactly how many cards I made, though a guess puts the number somewhere around 500. Each one representative of a nugget of information in one of the books I’d devoured.



Studying completely dominated my life. Any free moment that I had was devoted to learning. All hobbies were abandoned. If I did have free time and I didn’t devote it to my books or my note cards, I would be consumed by guilt. When I wasn’t reciting facts and reviewing information, I was thinking about the taking of the test itself. I imagined over and over how elated I would be if I passed, but for every imagined success I also imagined how devastating it would be if I failed. I was quite literally obsessed with that fucking test. It consumed me.

Until, finally, it felt like I’d learned everything that I knew to learn. I mean, I knew that I could continue this process for all eternity and still never learn everything that there was to learn about my craft. But I felt like I’d tackled everything that needed to be, and it was time. I took a practice test and learned a lot about how the questions were worded, and it just…felt like it was time. And frankly, I was out of resources.

So I scheduled my test. Now, all that was left was to take it.

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