Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Standardized Horror

Within the last few months, me and several of my friends have taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in hopes of advancing our academic careers. Our scores are not important; what is at issue here is how this greuling psychological terror exercise plays games with your usually cool head.

The test is simple, really. There are verbal, math and analytical writing portions that are supposed to test basic skills. All they really test is your ability to take standardized tests. They should just be a pointless formality in the more complex process of getting into a graduate program.

This is not how most react, at least this is not how I reacted. Even though I knew that this is simply part of the application, I put a great symbolic weight on this one event. It came to the point that the GRE became a referendum on my entire academic career and a crucial measure of my self worth.

The first time that I took the test in November of 1998, I did quite poorly due to several factors but I suspect that the mental factors had a large part to do with it. These factors almost drove me to hurry through the test and drive to the then self-fulfilling failure. It was this test that drove me off of my life-long career path in 1999, sidetracking me into the business world from 1999 to 2002. It was only after corporate and market meltdown in late 2001 and a further nine months of unemployment that I refound my path and I couldn't be happier.

What is the use of these tests. The authors, the evil wizards at the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, NJ, would tell you that it is a universal method for assessing candidates and their ability to complete graduate study. Hmm...sounds to me like there already is a measure of this that gives a much better picture of the individual behind the numbers. This is a mind-boggling new concept called THE STUDENT'S GRADES!

All students are graded on their performance on some sort of numerical scale that can easily be converted to the same basis. This would be a much fairer way to "screen" candidates and pick only the best for admission. Certainly better than some standard list of possibly related tasks and materials.

Who ever said that education had to make sense and have a purpose?

This is a question we all must answer for ourselves.

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