Intelligence . . . You Keep Using that Word

Ignorant: a state of not knowing what a pronoun is, or how to find the square root of 27.4, and merely knowing childish and useless things like which of the seventy almost identical-looking species of the purple sea snake are the deadly ones, how to treat the poisonous pith of the Sago-sago tree to make a nourishing gruel, how to foretell the weather by the movements of the tree-climbing Burglar Crab, how to navigate across a thousand miles of featureless ocean by means of a piece of string and a small clay model of your grandfather, how to get essential vitamins from the liver of the ferocious Ice Bear, and other such trivial matters. It’s a strange thing that when everyone becomes educated, everyone knows about the pronoun but no one knows about the Sago-sago.

Terry Pratchet, The Hogfather

I’m keeping it short this week because I’m taking the GRE this Saturday. To be honest, a gun is looking rather less painful than sitting through hours of this trollop.

The last time I took a standardized test, I was under the impression that they were a fantastic measure of intelligence. I wanted to get a perfect score and managed to get high enough that I attracted the attention of Harvard.

Of course, I ended up going to Bob Jones University instead, but that’s a story for a different time.

A lot has changed for me since I took the SAT and ACT. For one, I forgot almost all of my high school math, despite being able to take and pass a statistics course in undergrad.

Unfortunately, reviewing math isn’t all that the GRE requires, as I quickly found out from my study books. In addition to needing to know how big a rectangle will fit inside of a cylinder that has a radius of ___ and a height of ___, I also need to be able to read the test-makers’ minds.

Perhaps the GRE is more obvious than the SAT was, or perhaps I’m just more aware now than I was before, but this time around, I can see that the standardized test isn’t really a measure of intelligence.

From The Princess Bride

From The Princess Bride

Harvard liked me based on the numbers they saw after my SAT, but looking back at who I was, I can see that the SAT failed to measure anything of significance about my readiness for college, my critical thinking skills, or my awareness of the world. Had they measured that, I probably would have failed.

Now, as I prepare to apply for graduate school, my performance on the GRE will determine how much credence schools give to my application, but are they really getting a measure of how well I’ll do in grad school? Are they getting a measure of my critical thinking skills? Of my tenacity? Of my ability to question and seek out answers?

Will my performance on the GRE give them an idea of how well I can help others in counseling? Will it tell them whether I can develop my own studies or wisely critique another’s?

Have you seen this cartoon yet? Far too true.

A favorite that I’ve seen floating around Facebook alot.  Source: I think is Please correct me if I’m wrong. 

No. It’s not designed to do that. It’s just designed to test my willingness and ability to play the game.

If I’ve already graduated from undergrad, moderate deductive competence would assume that I already possess the “high school” prerequisites they are attempting to measure, which means they aren’t interested in whether I know how to do geometry or algebra or whether I can really use “recalcitrant” in a sentence. (Recalcitrance is one of my best qualities. I don’t know why that answer never won me a job interview!)

More importantly, if they are truly attempting to measure my critical thinking and problem solving skills, they would give far more weight to the process than to the “right answer,” which tells me that they’re not even interested in my ability to think.

They’re interested in whether I can think like them. 

It’s pissing me off–not because I don’t think I can do it, but because I shouldn’t have to. Conformity shouldn’t be the gatekeeper of higher education.


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