Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Standards of Learning

As I have gotten older, I have found it much easier to take tests. Throw anything at me and I can usually get a passing score, whether it's an ethics test (which we have to take every year), a test to get my LEED certificate or a test to get permission to drive on the airfield. Thanks to testing, I am a Certified Member of the American Association of Airport Executives and qualified at administering CPR. I find the tests largely useless and irrelevant, but I know how to get a passing grade!

Ross took his share of tests while at MIT, and there always seemed to be some pitfall. Either he'd lose his notes or he'd forget to sign his name. He would qualify as a solid "B" student, but test-taking always seemed to create problems for him.
Indeed, when I was in school, I met someone who aced a three-page test and would have done even better overall if he had noticed the fourth page. Fortunately him and those of us who went to MIT in the '70s, there were second chances. Some classes, particularly 18.01, which was the first of two freshman calculus courses, gave you two chances to get a passing grade on the exam. In addition to that, you would review each exam with the proctor afterwards, so it was possible to raise your score by showing how you solved the problem to the proctor's satisfaction. In true Tom Lehrer "New Math" fashion, it was more important to understand what you were doing, rather than to get the right answer.

This could occasionally get you into trouble because it was possible to answer the question correctly on the test and not be able to adequately explain to the proctor how you did it. There were no allowances for dumb luck. In much the same fashion, it was also possible to score worse on the make-up test than on the initial test...
I should also mention one last test that allows for second chances - the SAT test. It is actually the first test, since it's the one that determines early on whether you are MIT material, and you take it in high school. You can take that test as many as three times. In sophomore year in high school, there is the Pre-SAT, which is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It lets you know what areas you might want to bone up on in order to raise your score. Then in December of your senior year, you take the SAT, and if you don't like your score, you can take it again in February. My SAT's indicated that I was proficient enough at mathematics (I was soon disabused of this notion when I started taking Differential Equations and courses in Probability and Statistics) but my English comprehension skills were woeful. In short, I had the proper skill set to become a consultant.

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