Recently, I’ve realized that if I want to have a real career, I need to go back to school. And that means I get the delightful opportunity to take the GRE. Oh hosanna of hosannas. Now, there’s something I need to make really clear here, right off the bat. I’m good at standardized tests. Back in the day when I was getting ready for the SAT, I started out with a good score on the practice tests and wound up knocking it out of the park. NYS Regents tests, SAT2s, the works, I score well on tests. But that doesn’t make me smart. And it’s no indication of my intelligence. It’s an indication of one thing and one thing only: I know how to prepare for and take standardized tests. And the fact that if I get a good score on one of these tests it may have any bearing on whether I get into school over someone else who may in fact be a better candidate, if only that person had my aptitude for test taking, is a travesty to our educational system.
Looking over my GRE prep, I’m finding all these words that are just useless. “Aver” (declare), ten different words for either “happy” or “easy-going,” four different words that all mean “rural” – a word that almost doesn’t have the same meaning in an age where everyone is wired up to the same damn internet – it’s insane. For everything I’d get out of learning these words, I’d get better value investing in a good dictionary. The math I’m looking at, none of it goes past what I learned in High School. Is this what grad schools care about? I’m trying to get a degree in literature and they want to make sure I passed High School math? Aren’t my AP scores enough?
Tests like the GRE are about three things. 1 – getting an idea of what material is going to be covered. 2 – knowing how the questions are going to be phrased, where they’re going to be particular about the answers and where they’re not. 3 – knowing how the test works enough to approach it calmly. That’s why enrolling in a course for taking these tests tends to work. They get you familiar with the material. But how does it make sense to study for a test that is supposed to be a measurement of your aptitude and your readiness to enter an educational environment?
If you want to put forward an argument that states that something like the GRE is intended to show that the student is willing to study, I sort of get that. But at the same time, by making the decision to go to grad school, the prospective student is already stating their readiness to learn. If you want to know more about them, look at their academic history, make them write essays, interview them, ask about what they’ve done since college – that seems to be what’s actually important about them.
Standardized tests are becoming more and more important to education at every level. Unfortunately, they have little to nothing to do with actual learning and everything to do with learning to take standardized tests. They’re why teachers don’t have time to teach students to think, because if their students don’t perform well on the standardized tests, that means budget cuts to the school. I know that it’s hard to measure student performance without being able to test them, but these fill in one in four tests cannot be the answer. Our educational system needs to help kids learn how to think, and perhaps one of the best things we can do is try to create systems where we can test children on how well they can solve a problem, instead of how quickly they can memorize a fact.