This is a Test
I walked home from the local testing center after I took the GMAT today. It's a good activity, walking; it has a long heritage of doing good for the body and the soul, as well as getting one from place to place. It is especially good after several hours of pressured abstractions. A shaken and carbonated mind can slowly release, rather than exploding onto the next activity. Which, in my case, is puzzling over my scores.
Verbal 42 (96%ile ), Math 32 (31%ile), Total 76%ile. The soul of my wits expressed with brevity. A ridiculously succinct condensation of my potential in graduate business schools. Everyone knows that a score on a standardized test is only a measure of how well you are likely to do on a standardized tests. Even ETS, the agency the perpetrates these tests, takes care to mention words to that effect. I understand this, and the low math scores shouldn't bother me.
And they don't, not at first, not as I start walking home. I'm relieved simply to be outside, simply to be where the sun and the air are, moving at a reliable pace on real legs, the motion a familiar pattern I mastered 25 years ago.
And then... I am amused at the irony. All my preparation for the test was mathematical. I took three sample mathematics tests. Each indicated that I was well-prepared; I missed no more than three questions on each of them, and finished well within the aloted time. I studied the areas in which I showed the slightest weakness. Not to mention undergraduate degree in Mathematics. You could argue I've been preparing for the math section of the GMAT since my freshman year. And yet my math score comes in the BOTTOM THIRD of those tested.
Conversely, I gave only the most cursory attention to preparing for the verbal portion of the exam. My performance on the practice test I took was riddled with bad answers. I had two writing courses my entire college career. In short, someone like me going into the test might have well expected the exact opposite score.
And as I begin to seriously think about the scores, it does begin to bother me.
I used to to phenomenally well on standardized tests -- a fact which may have done more to get me into college than anything else. If you set the wayback machine for 1988, I was a mediocre high school student. I had been characterized as "bright" or "gifted" in my younger years, and supplemental activities my first few years of grade school included reading of Greek and Norse mythology, study of basic cryptography, introduction to computers and programming, and more. But my performance in junior high slipped to merely good, and my sophmore year of high school was rather dismal. By the time I reached my junior year of high school I no longer carried any delusions of giftedness. Creativity, perhaps, a sense of "differentness", yes, but very little that was decidedly "smart."
Until I scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT and the ACT, and received the highest possible marks on the two AP Computer Science Tests.
There was no preparation, not even the least premeditation about them on my part. Plodding through the normal course of my junior year, I was herded along with nearly everyone else to take these tests (PSAT and ACT -- the computer science test only a few of us took!). I don't even remember assigning the tests any particular importance as I took them; public schools had been giving us standardized tests since the SRA in grade school. But the I took them, the scores came back, and I had done well. Suddenly, my high school counselor knew my name, my teachers paid closer attention to me, colleges I had never heard of (or ones I had, and had never dreamed of attending) were sending me enrollment information, and I was labeled "smart" again. The mere act of filling in the proper sequence of bubbles on a few scan-tron sheets with no. 2 pencil had won me respect and renewed academic opportunities. And truth to tell, more than a little self-confidence, even though I was aware of the possibility that my scores only showed that I took tests well. Rumor reached me that my computer science teacher, in particular, beleived that I had hoodwinked the AP test rather than mastered the subject. It didn't matter. I had walked to the exchange table and cashed in my chips for a currency the world respected and took as legal tender, and I had reason to beleive I could do it again. It changed my attitude and the way I worked at school. Most students simply coast their senior year of high school, and screw off their freshman year of college. My grades my senior year of high school were better than any year I'd had in public school; my freshman year of college was academically phenomenal. As far as academia went, I had little reason to beleive I would have to deal with limits.
A college record tainted with several semesters similar to my sophmore year of high school turned out to be the reality, and I became a solid B student. Even a "bright" mind can't always overcome the effects of poor personal decisions, and these took their toll on my scholastic efforts. But several years ago, I again walked to the testing table, expecting to cash in my chips. My score on the GRE was nowhere near as good as my testing performances in high school; it didn't quite even reflect the level of academic performance I'd exhibited during college. And so today's math score -- worse still than my GRE performance -- feels like the latest in a series of several reversals, a devaluing of the Weston-dollar relative to the prevailing professional currency. Not to mention the questions it makes me ask about the actual value of my education.
I have seen the benefits of doing well on standardized tests; I have benefited not only from the opportunities the scores opened to me, but also from the status they bequeathed on me. No matter what truth the scores respresent, today I either have to accept that the promise of the old scores was false or that it is over.
There's not much else to do but walk and write.