The Test…Round 1

We are coming out of the tunnel here, the dark and narrow stressful kind, with the first go at college entrance standardized testing.  SuzyQ took the ACT on Saturday morning, and now we wait.  And we get ready for Round 2 next month, when she takes the SAT.

It has been more than a few years since I took the SAT.  Over the years, it has gone through a major overhaul so that I don’t even recognize it anymore.  I don’t recall knowing anything about the ACT because it wasn’t the norm in my part of the country.  These days, colleges accept scores from either test, so we decided that it would be best for SuzyQ to take both and then go with her stronger scores.

Friday was Cram Day.  All regular school work was put aside so that we could concentrate on test prep.  Yes, I know, all the best test prep books tell you not to cram.  Sure, staying up all night working math problems and sample tests or memorizing vocabulary words is a bad idea.  However, I think that the stuff you study last is what stays with you.  SuzyQ has been preparing for weeks with the “Question of the Day” put out by ACT and with study guides.  Cram Day was all about getting her pumped up for the test.  There were games and prizes, chocolate milkshakes, and take-out lunch.  Then at 9 p.m. the books were put away, clothes laid out, pencils sharpened, calculator batteries changed, and the alarm set for Saturday morning.  We shall see whether Cram Day was effective or not.

After going through many test prep books for both ACT and SAT, I reached a couple of conclusions:

  • The reading comprehension passages (though they are not called that anymore) are still just as boring as they were 25 years ago.  I think the real test must be whether the student has the fortitude to make it through the test section without dozing off or completely zoning out.  Not one passage I saw contained anything funny or mysterious or exciting.  Test writers have to eliminate any topics that potentially could be seen as controversial, politically incorrect, appealing to one demographic group over another, or unfamiliar to any perspective test taker.  What one person finds humorous, another might find offensive.  Maybe the humor wouldn’t come across to someone who is not a native English-speaker.  Passages are scrupulously screened for racism, sexism, age-ism, and many other -isms that wouldn’t even occur to most people.  After all of that filtering, the remaining safe topics are dull, dry, and…Yawn.
  • Don’t get scared away by the Science Test part of the ACT.  It’s not actually about science.  I’m not sure why the test writers even bother with this section.  Yes, the passages you must read are about science, but you don’t have to know anything at all about the subject.  All of the answers come from interpreting the graphs and tables or reading the material provided.  Some test prep books even warn students NOT to use outside knowledge of a subject.  The test is strictly meant to see if you can come to conclusions from the given information.  Nothing to study for here, except different types of graphs.
  • The essay topics for the writing portion are ridiculous.  These “writing prompts” are supposed to involve issued that would be of interest to the average high school student.  Think for a minute about what interests your average teenager: movies and TV, music, sports, shopping, driving, dating.  So what do the geniuses who write the tests come up with?  “Should high school students travel overseas the summer before starting college?”  “Should high school students be required to take a financial management class before graduation?”  Or the old favorite: “Should public high schools require students to wear uniforms?”  Come on!  Teens who have just spent the last several hours filling in bubbles and are essentially zombie-brained do not care about any of these topics.  Why not ask them to write about whether new driving laws are too restrictive against teen drivers?  How about an essay on why teens are apathetic about voting when they turn 18?  Or maybe they could write about whether the draft should be reinstated.  Those are issues that affect teenagers.  But then you might unwittingly discriminate against students who…I guess live under a rock and never hear a news headline?

Some things about these test never change, besides their boring character, I mean.  As I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes after dropping off SuzyQ, I watched what I called “the parade of high school humanity”.  There were the students actually running to the door 2 minutes before test time with a calculator in one hand and admission ticket in the other.  On a below-freezing morning, 99.5% of the kids were not wearing coats.  One even wore flip-flops.  And SuzyQ reported that one student in her classroom had forgotten to bring a pencil.  Classic.

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