Monday, April 23, 2012

Pencils Down

I've taken many tests in my lifetime. Thanks to the wonders of multiple choice and passing grades of 70% or higher, I can now claim to be a Certified Planner, a Certified Member of the American Association of Airport Executives and a LEED-accredited professional. I'm not sure what it has done for me except add a good chunk of the alphabet after my name.

I'm certainly a better test-taker than I was in school (although I've frequently failed tests of my blood sugar). In those days, exams were important and a little unsettling. Exams at MIT were no different, although unlike high school, those tests were frequently open-book. There was a reason for that; MIT never tested you on how well you could memorize the material, it wanted to see what you could do with all you had learned. For that reason, a good set of notes was important - as long as you remembered to bring them.
As I said, MIT always tested your ability to use what you had learned. For that reason, the exams always challenged your creativity and your ability to think outside the box. It really didn't matter how good your notes were...
Freshmen got introduced to exam-taking during Rush Week. MIT featured a Freshman Orientation Exam that asked any number of strange questions, including one about the angle of the dangle that I won't bother repeating; you'll just have to take the exam for yourself.

MIT also recognized that students sometimes had a bad day, so some classes, particularly freshman calculus, allowed do-overs on the exams. Not that it helped, necessarily...
Freshman calculus exams (at least in my day) also had the unique feature that you always reviewed the results with the proctor immediately after the exam, and in doing so, it was possible to improve your score (or in some cases to lose points) by showing how you did your work. It was Tom Lehrer's New Math, in that it was more important to understand what you were doing rather than to get the right answer.

However, if all else failed, MIT had another lifeline for overwhelmed students.
A final note: test-taking was not quite over after the last Final of your senior year. Those of us who entertained thoughts of going on to grad school had one more set of tests to take - the GRE's. Students wishing to get into law school took the LSAT's, and there were exams to get into medical school or business school. These were fairly rigorous exams built around multiple choice questions. Unlike MIT, however, there were strict rules about analytical aids in the exam room.
Technology is a wonderful thing, however; now the proctors will strip-search you to remove your Smartphones and iPads.

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