Examination Dreams

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In examination dreams, which Freud considered to be "typical dreams," the dreamer sees himself back at school taking an examination.

Freud mentions this type of dream several times in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). The dreamer is embarrassed to see himself as an adult among much younger fellow students and obliged to retake an examination that he already passed a long time ago. "It would seem, then, that anxious examination dreams (which, as has been confirmed over and over again, appear when the dreamer has some responsible activity ahead of him next day and is afraid there may be a fiasco)" (1900a, p. 274). The meaning of the dream would be: "Don't be afraid of tomorrow! Just think how anxious you were before your Matriculation, and yet nothing happened to you" (1900a, p. 274).

The interpretation can nevertheless prove to be more complex: In Chapter 6, Freud recounts one of his own dreams, an "absurd dream about a dead father" (1900a, p. 435), which is marked by uncertainty about the dates of his own birth and his father's death. Freud analyzes the uneasiness about filiation and hostility to the father (who in this dream admits to having been arrested for drunkenness) by associating it with his memory of having been a slow medical student: "In my circle of acquaintances I was regarded as an idler and it was doubted whether I should ever get through" (1900a, p. 450). It is therefore about an oedipal issue (particularly from the point of view of rivalry with the father).

Freud never returned to examination dreams, and the theme seems to have received little attention outside of the United States. However, these dreams are encountered frequently in clinical practice.

Roger Perron

See also: Dream.


Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. Parts I and II. SE, 4-5: 1-625.

Further Reading

Kafka, Ernest. (1979). On examination dreams. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 48, 426-447.

Ostow, Mortimer. (1995). The examination dream revisited: A clinical note. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 50, 418-424.

Renik, Owen. (1981). Typical examination dreams; superego dreams; traumatic dreams. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 50, 159-189.