What Standardized Testing Taught Me

None of the Above.

That was my all-time favorite answer when taking a bubble test. Sometimes ‘All of the Above’ was equally enthralling.

I did well on standardized testing. I know, I know, surprise for a little white girl in a white collar neighborhood, right? Despite scoring in the top 25% even in my ‘bad’ subjects, I am only now realizing how deeply I internalized the truly awful lessons these test taught me.

Now I’m writing a personal assessment. This is not meant to stand for anything greater. But as a writer, as a thinker, as an adult struggling to deal with the real world it is amazing how the one lesson I took away from those tests so stunted my growth.

What was that lesson? Never double check answers. Never take my time and never for any reason follow a questioning line of thought. Why you ask? My young mind always made the mistake of questioning. I wanted to look deep into everything, study it from every angle, eliminate the impossible, then explore all the possibilities left. I liked to play with information like a cat.

And then came the bubbles and the trick questions. Where well-meaning test purposely tries to lead students off track. The problem with this was I’d get the answers right on first try. But if I did as the teachers suggested and when back to check my work (or God forbid took my time) I’d think too deeply. How were they tricking me, I’d wonder. Two cats added to two cats in a white room equals four cats, obviously…so it can’t be four cats. And my inquisitive mind would try and justify why two cats was actually the right answer…or six…or YAY All of the above. Some could have died, after all, cats can be territorial maybe they attacked each other. Or bred. Was I trying to be a smartass. No.

I was trying to make logical sense of why a test would want to trick me. And I was doing what came naturally- investigating.

I learned, though. I learned from practice tests that I scored significantly higher if I went as quickly as possible. No big deal in and of itself, but the lesson was terrible.

The belief rooted in me that there was something magical about a first try. Something quintessentially unbeatable in a first attempt that a second attempt, though it might correct some errors, would only cause more. This meant college term papers always written the night before they were due. It meant writing a novel and then being afraid to revise because the ‘essence’ of my story would disappear and leave me with shlock.

It is only this year, at 31, that I am beginning to overcome my misconception that somehow revision is damaging to a product. Funnily enough, this year is also the first time I’ve had a story published.

Now, I have no idea if there is anyone else like me. I’m sure this isn’t a common issue. But isn’t that part of the overarching issue with standardized tests? They don’t account for the ‘individual’ experience. The little girl who can convince herself that e) all of the above is the only correct answer, despite the fact at 2) 4 cats is obviously correct, gets lost in the shuffle. Not saying I’m Einstein but how would he have done with this? According to the laws of these tests, nothing would ever be invented because thought is discouraged.

This little rant was inspired by an article I read. If you are interested:


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