The apex of my test-taking career came in the tenth grade, when I missed a math question on the SAT, bringing my score down from a perfect 1600 to a still pretty decent 1590. I remember being irritated that no one seemed to know or care. (I just employed a narrative sleight-of-hand with the tense there. This is my way of tricking the reader into thinking that my grudge was fleeting. No one needs to know that I still harbor resentments from half a lifetime ago.)
We had a schoolwide announcement when the beauty queen was crowned, and we had a “fire drill” to get everyone outside to wave to the football team when they went to state playoffs, but performing exceptionally well on a standardized test was not worth getting worked up over. Fortunately this insult did not bother me whatsoever and I am not nursing those wounds well into adulthood.
My performance on the GRE, in contrast, was lackluster. It comprised three parts: English, math, and logic. At the time I took it, I felt I did well on the English; I felt I did passably well on the math; and about halfway through the logic section I started selecting “C” as an answer for the remainder of the test because I was nearly out of time and C is a nice enough letter. It is for “cookie.”
This struggle with the logic section was more than passing strange, as solving logic puzzles is my favorite pastime, after reading.
My math score was the strongest. My English score was the weakest. My throwing-a-dart-while-blindfolded “strategy” on the logic section garnered a higher score than the part where you do analogies and figure out where the apostrophe goes.
Those results were absurd and undermined any faith I may have ever had in standardized tests, with the notable exception of the SAT that one time.
Today I took another test. Immediately prior to beginning, I rent my flesh with my own teeth and used the flowing blood to swear that I would not discuss particulars, on pain of death of my firstborn, which I guess in this case means Goblin. I can’t disclose any of the questions that were on the Foreign Service Officer Test, but I can talk about it in general terms.
The first section was multiple choice. I feel very confident about some of them, somewhat less confident about others, and one for sure I know I screwed up. I had it narrowed down to one of two choices, and I guessed the wrong one.
The second section was odd, with personal questions designed (I think) to determine my personality and my style of working. If I understand correctly, this section does not get scored, because none of the answers are right or wrong. Why it is included on the test is a bit of a mystery to me.
The third section was the part where I figured out where the apostrophe goes. Should be a perfect score on the part, by my reckoning, but that’s what I thought about the GRE and boy howdy did I call that wrong.
The final section involved an essay prompt and 30 minutes of less than inspired writing. I do not anticipate moving the graders to tears with my soaring rhetoric. I did however manage to string words together using recognizable syntax, plus I threw in some punctuation for free.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five weeks I will receive an email. It will be either a consolatory “Thanks for playing, try again next year!” message or else an invitation to write even more essays.
Meanwhile, my Peace Corps application is moving along at a pace that does justice to everything you’ve ever heard about the federal government. I suppose I should be grateful that it is staggering under the weight of bureaucracy. I will be in a quandary if the Peace Corps offers me a position while the carrot of the Foreign Service is still dangling.
For now, at least, I can ease up on the grim social science I’ve been reading. Actually I quite like grim social science, and I’m going to enjoy finishing Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, this complete downer of a book that looks at the horrible conditions of Americans in a variety of settings: Lakota Indians succumbing to drugs and poverty, the urban poor unable to find jobs in Camden, New Jersey, Latinos living in squalor and picking tomatoes in Immokalee, Florida, and poor whites dying of cancer and disease while the mountains are destroyed in West Virginia. Graphic novelist Joe Sacco provides occasional artistic counterpoint to the prose of journalist Chris Hedges, and it’s a potent combination of despair and hopelessness. If the book doesn’t make you feel awful, you’re doing it wrong.