Ostomy Memories of Test Taking


Way back when I was a student (several lifetimes ago, it seems), my primary goal was to remain a student as long as possible. Learning new stuff was right up my overly serious alley. The added benefit, of course, was not getting drafted, a Vietnam era problem that took care of itself when I exchanged campus life for five months of hospitalization and donated my colon and associated parts to science in exchange for 4-F status in 1964. During my first semester of college, my big discovery had been that I selected the wrong major study area and the final test (the only test) in chemistry proved my undoing. Once I recovered from my illness and enrolled back in school, my proper major had become clear and my test taking improved as well. The chemistry test had been one of those machine-graded multiple-choice jobs where you fill in your answer choice with a No. 2 pencil. Cursing silently to myself, I guessed my way through it and flunked miserably. But later, once back in school, I rallied. In the couple of hours before my final in American literature, I sat under a large elm tree and sipped my way through a bottle of vermouth while looking over my class notes, then went in and aced the test. To quote Dirty Harry: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”


Hello HenryM.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with tests.

My experience of examinations was much the same, in that I have never had a good memory. It took me years to work out that I would never be good at academic tests because these types of tests rely on the ability to recall stuff, rather than think things through for yourself.
Nonetheless, once I left mainstream school, I decided to adopt what I called the ‘high-jump’ model, whereby I determined that I would keep trying to jump those hurdles until I failed. As it happened, I always seemed to manage to scrape a poor pass.
That was, until I started my own research projects and reached those higher levels of academia, where ‘thinking’ was more important than remembering. Interestingly, at those higher levels, they no longer rely on the previous ‘tests’, but have a system of assessment of one’s work via written theses and an oral examination (viva voce). This is basically an in-depth chat about your research to see if it was really you that wrote the theses.

Thinking for myself, researching, writing, and chatting was right up my street, and posed none of the difficulties I had previously experienced with the academic ‘memory-testing’ processes. Besides which, the examiners were there in person, showing a genuine interest in my work, which made it much easier to share with them both the work and the results.

I learned a lot about the ‘academic system’ over the years, and have concluded that it has very little to say about the ‘intelligence’ levels of individuals, but shows (once again) that human society is made up of various cliques/groups, which make up their own rules, so that the people who are ‘allowed’ to progress within those systems are those who abide by their rules.

The initial years of curriculum-based learning is, in practice, a brainwashing technique, whereby student-participants need to learn what they are ‘told’ are ‘right’ answers, according to the ‘system’’ requirements. Only then, (when they accept the status quo) will they be ‘allowed’ into higher education, where they can begin to explore, learn and express themselves in new ways.
There are of course, many people who benefit from the system as it is, but unfortunately, where tests are based on pre-determined questions and supposedly right/wrong answers, the system is wide open to abuse, exploitation and cheating.
Thus, the education system seems like a microcosm, encapsulating the characteristics of the larger society in which it exists.

Best wishes

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