Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Have A Test For That

I spent most of today sitting in a classroom, watching people born while I was in graduate school try to get into college. It was better for the soul than watching the next crop of lawyers take their exams, anyway.

One of the many things I do around Home Campus is proctor standardized exams. It's not a bad gig, which is why it fills up quickly - if you want to do it you have to respond immediately to the plaintive emails that go out seeking proctors. But if you are fortunate enough to be selected, you do have to be prepared to spend more time than you would imagine reading things verbatim to people who just want to get on with it and go home.

How many times do you have to tell people "use only a soft no. 2 pencil; mechanical pencils are prohibited" before they get the hint and put away the mechanical pencil? Hint: you don't have that many fingers to count that high. No you do not. Not even if you have been duly respectful of fireworks your whole life and are not nicknamed "Lefty" or even "The Claw."

The LSATs were Monday, and the ACTs were today. Despite a level of official paranoia roughly on par with right-wing talk radio, the ACTs are almost laid back compared to the LSATs. I attribute this to their target audiences. Lawyers almost by definition - even in their larval stages - are people who naturally seek out any edge and are willing to bend just about any rule to their advantage if they can get away with it. In a courtroom this is called "litigating," and people who can do it without making too many stretch marks on the laws in the process are handsomely rewarded. In an exam it's called "cheating," however, and you just would not believe the variety and severity of rules that are in place specifically because somebody once got a bright idea that the LSAT people would like to avoid happening again. There's a creativity there that could probably solve most of the world's problems if it were harnessed correctly. It would cause new problems, of course, but nothing is perfect. High school students are much less artful in their attempts to bypass the system, and so the rules are rather more blunt and somewhat less encompassing.

You feel more like a camp counselor keeping the peace with the ACTs, instead of a prison guard in the financial crimes wing like you do at the LSATs.

So I stocked up on work, books and tea and headed in to Home Campus for some good old-fashioned proctoring - a verb that sounds far more intriguing than it actually is - this morning. There was a small crowd of us, and a large crowd of them, and eventually it all got sorted out.

Standardized exams are an awful thing to do to people on a sunny Saturday morning.

First it was the prologue - 72 hours of instructions, repeated on a 15-minute loop, which in effect boiled down to "put your name down and don't try anything funny." Then it was this test, that test and that other test over there, and finally it was over and they could go home. And after collating for a while, I got to go home too.

I cannot express in words how glad I am that my oval-filling days are past me now.

1 comment:

Jack Lynch said...

Y'know, as I finished my last qualifying exam in grad school, I walked out of the room thinking, "This is the last exam I'll ever have to take." I was positively elated.

Then it all came crashing down when I realized, "... except for medical exams." And they're much worse. As unpleasant as the number-two-pencil-filled bubble dots are, few academic exams involve rubber gloves. Worse still, you can never pass the last one: you just keep taking medical exams until you fail.