Gerecht: Standardized tests test our tempers, but quit complaining

By Carolyn Gerecht

Standardized tests are the bane of students’ existence, the little circular bubbles which… Standardized tests are the bane of students’ existence, the little circular bubbles which determine our futures.

After facing the SAT in high school, some of us — the lucky ones — are forever free from standardized testing. But for others, myself included, many are merely on a hiatus as the next standardized test looms like an impending storm.

Earlier this semester, I took the GRE. The test itself could have been worse — it could have been one of those truly self-mortifying tests like the LSAT.

But the very idea of whittling my personal worth down to a few three-digit codes is depressing. I left feeling like the clichéd “just another number.” Hey, grad schools, don’t you care that I give up my seat for pregnant women on the bus? Aren’t you impressed that I made all these flashcards? No? Are you sure?

But I think it’s time to stop whining about it.

I really don’t want to. It would be so much easier to continue my tirade on the injustice of it all. It’s a test, it’s expensive, it’s demeaning and it’s downright boring.

In my increasing irritation, though, with the way other people sound when they whine about something as ubiquitous and inevitable as standardized testing, I’m ready to admit that I probably sound just as annoying.

Standardized tests like the GRE are a part of the higher education process. We all have to take them to get into college, graduate school and medical school. There’s no reason to cry about it — especially to peers, who are going through the same thing. I don’t deserve special sympathy. And hey, neither do you.

And if it’s really so bad, I can always give up applying to grad school altogether.

But I want to go. So I better suck up standardized testing already. It’s silly to set big goals, only to get upset when they’re hard to achieve.

I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped on the GRE that I took earlier this semester. I blamed this, at first, on the fact that the test is on a computer, the short time limits and the stupidity of the Educational Testing Service.

But when you don’t do well on a test, it’s not called “being a poor test taker,” it’s called “being a poor student.”

The lessons of college — highlighting is not studying, flashcards only work if you make them work for you and so on — apply to standardized tests. Yes, some of us are more nervous under pressure than others, but if I’d studied more diligently, I would have had less to be nervous about. I would have understood what the question was asking and would have answered it as quickly as possible.

It’s shocking, I know.

I wish just as badly as anyone else that the GRE were not a part of my graduate school application process. Standardized tests are an unpleasant, and as far as I’m concerned, insufficient method to determine our potential as students.

But I have several goals in life that precede “let’s rework America’s educational institutions and their application processes,” and thus, when I complain about these tests, I’m all talk and no walk. I whine about testing, and I have no plans to enact any kind of real change.

So to put it bluntly, I need to cut the crap.

Besides, the test isn’t nearly as unfair as I’d like to pretend. It’s not culturally insensitive, impossible to succeed at or made up of useless information. Sure, I’m annoyed that I want to get a degree in the liberal arts, and I need to re-memorize all that junk about 30-60-90 triangles.

If I put on my Grown-Up Cap, though, I have to concede that a working knowledge of geometry isn’t going to hurt me in life.

I don’t like standardized tests any more than the next kid and over the years; I haven’t done as well on them as I wish I had. I’m smart and capable, and I’m bothered that test scores don’t always reflect that. But if I make it my goal to go to grad school, I must come to terms with the fact that I have to study for, take and submit scores from this test (or give up the goal and start lobbying Congress).

No more whining. No more whining about whining. I’m off to sharpen my No. 2 pencil.

E-mail Carolyn about anything except the GRE at [email protected].