Some dream motifs are so common that almost everybody has had them on more than one occasion. These motifs include such common scenarios as falling and flying dreams, dreams of nakedness in public, and unpreparedness dreams. Such shared dreams arise from experiences and anxieties fundamental to all people.
Unpreparedness is one of these shared motifs, although the precise way in which it manifests varies from society to society. In Western society, this motif often emerges in dreams in which we find ourselves taking an examination for which we are completely unprepared. For example, college students often have anxiety dreams around the end of the term if they have not studied adequately for their examinations. The unpreparedness motif can also emerge in other ways, such as when we dream about standing before a crowd on stage or at a public forum and realizing that we either have forgotten what we were supposed to say or were never prepared to say anything in the first place.
Although some unpreparedness dreams give direct expression to anxieties about test-taking or public speaking, the human mind may also deploy test-taking or public speaking images in dreams that symbolically express our hopes and fears. In our everyday language, for instance, we use the expression “passing the test” to refer to anyone or anything that is satisfactory or that fulfills certain requirements. Thus, a dream about being unprepared to take a test or to give a speech might reflect anxieties about everything from how we will do on an upcoming job interview to whether or not we will succeed in a new marriage. The core anxiety concerns doubts about our adequacy.