Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tests Are Stupid

For the past few days, I've been trying desperately to think of a good topic for a new post, but I've found myself preoccupied by the final exams I have to take this week. As I took to Facebook and Twitter to procrastinate and search for inspiration, it became clear that I'm not the only one with tests on the brain. Finals are either just ending or just beginning at pretty much every university in the country (sorry, UChicago), ACT scores are coming back, and today is the latest episode in the never-ending melodrama that is the SAT. With all these tests going on, then, I figured it was only appropriate for me to write about tests and all the reasons why I hate them.

I first realized the stupidity of tests at a very young age. Back in those days, we had the dreaded ISTEP tests. Every September, school would grind to a halt for five days so the student body could be tested on how many sides there are in a triangle and whether Joe and Sally went to the zoo in a story called "Joe and Sally Go to the Zoo." Surprisingly, my sharpest memories from these exams were quite fond - during ISTEP, after all, we were able (and indeed, practically forced) to bring in enough snacks for a small army...for test-taking energy!

As time went on, though, the educators of America got wise to the fact that placing such emphasis on testing snacks was doing plenty for our national obesity rates but exactly nothing for our test scores. By middle school, snacks had to be "healthy" (read: disgusting), and teachers had to actually devote serious time to ISTEP prep. Since ISTEP fell so early in the school year, this essentially meant that, until ISTEP was over, nothing happened in the classroom except preparation for the test. Being the fairly intelligent, easily bored middle schooler that I was, I needed an extra month of 2+2 like I needed a hole in the head. It was during this time, I think, that I first began to realize how stupid tests were.

Then there was high school and, along with it, the most reviled objects of scorn of the entire high school universe - the SAT and ACT. If you care even remotely about getting into college, it's drilled into you early that you can't simply write these tests off as stupid. Your life depends on these tests. While that is essentially true, that fact in itself is extremely stupid. Let me tell you a little something about the SAT and ACT. According to the ACT, I am a science genius. If I remember correctly, the science portion of the ACT consists of five sections. The first section left me completely stumped. I spent so long trying to decode it, in fact, that by the time the proctor gave the five-minute warning, I was still on section one. I did all the rest of the test in five minutes. I know nothing about science. The ACT graders clearly do not know what they are talking about. According to the SAT, meanwhile, my writing is just sort of...meh. My extremely mediocre score out of 12 on the SAT essay did not change from eighth grade (yes, I took the SAT in 8th grade, I'm a freak, I know) to my final SAT during junior year. I'm an English major. I have planned on being an English major since approximately the fourth grade. Generally speaking, I like to think I'm a pretty decent writer. Looking at my SAT writing score out of 800, it's obvious that the SAT people can't even come to a consensus on it themselves. The college-going fates of every student in America depends on these tests, and these tests quite clearly do an accurate job of representing just about nothing. Let's all say it together now: tests are stupid.

But now that I'm a sophomore/rising-junior-in-five-days in the College of Arts and Letters, I don't have to take science classes anymore. You'd think, then, that I shouldn't really have tests anymore, right?


This semester, I have three final exams. Looking at how they're set up, though, I can't even complain about this being a difficult undertaking. Again, I'm forced to come to the conclusion that tests are really, really stupid. My first final this week consists of one question, which was given to us to start working on weeks ago. We're allowed to bring in an outline. My second final is take-home and, thus, open-book and open-note. My third final consists of three sets of questions, two of which have already been given to us. Yes, this makes my life a lot easier, but I have to ask - what exactly is the point of this? These tests will certainly refresh my knowledge on the course materials, but they're not exactly going to test me. Meanwhile, my friends in the College of Science are killing themselves trying to study for exams so difficult, my eyes would explode upon taking a mere glance at their cover pages.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no intention of staging a sit-in to make Arts & Letters professors give me more difficult tests. I'm not bitter about standardized tests because my scores were bad; in fact, the looks I get from people who've just heard my SAT score are just about the same looks you'd get after yelling "I have leprosy" in a public shower. But for everyone out there who's stressing out about exams, comfort should be taken in the fact that tests are really just silly. I mean, should you still take your tests and study for them and try to avoid failing at tests and, you know, life? Yes. (Unless you really feel like stickin' it to the man and abandoning the system in favor of becoming a dirty hippie. That works, too.) Remember, in a few years, the only tests you'll have to worry about are semi-annual vision tests - and you don't even have to study for those!

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