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Standardized tests bring out the worst in students

Last month, I decided to partake in the dreadfully ceremonial tradition for all potential graduate students: the standardized test. In my previous sentence, the word potential was chosen with particular care since, let’s face it, in the numbers-driven admissions mania, the laudatory highs or blemishing lows are the decisive ingredient of our hopeful applications — either securing our secondary degrees and the resulting crowning glory of graduation parties or forcing us to reroute to plan B.

My test of choice, the LSAT, was of typical length, administered over a four-hour time span on a frightfully early Saturday morning to students artificially awakened by extra shots of espresso. After ensuring that all remaining fluid contents were deposited with our fourth, and last, trip to the bathroom, we were ungraciously herded into our alphabetized rooms akin to a flock of jittery, antsy sheep. Seated and waiting, it suddenly became apparent to me that my test-room proctors, average Ohioan citizens I’d meet at any given bus stop, grocery line, traffic jam, etc., had morphed into almighty beings whose generous time slip-ups could let me hurriedly fill in that extra bubble on my answer sheet.

Normally, I’d consider myself a resident of Lilliput in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels because of my small stature. But quite suddenly, I found myself to be Brobdingnagian — my appointed desk was entirely too small for my now behemoth frame to have a continually firm grasp on my answer sheet, question sheet, archaic number two pencils, and thus necessary pencil sharpener, tissues (for when I have my compulsory breakdown), highlighter and erasers (phew!). The flipping, turning, picking, and placing called for a pre-planned gracefully maneuvered pattern —coordination that I was utterly unprepared for. Needless to say, my general malaise only grew as the clock ticked down the end of the test. At its conclusion, I impolitely hurdled out the door and sought the refuge of my room.

The purpose of this story is twofold: Your own, analogous standardized testing experience lends me your sympathy (though if you’re a person with considerable sang-froid you have rightfully smirked at my expense), and secondly, though these tests intend to remain agonizing, perhaps we can take a cue from the composed and aim to lessen our trepidation.

A possible suggestion: Approach your selected standardized test with a finals mentality. With the exception of Fall-Quarter freshmen, final exams are second nature to college students. That is not to say we are unconcerned and negligently ill-prepared; rather, we have proportioned anxiety — a contrast to the ballooned fear that reaches the degree of hyperventilation for weightier standardized tests of graduate school admissions. In fact, midway through college, typical exam procedure becomes so ingrained in students that it almost transforms to a ritualistic endeavor.

Moreover, any remaining tension is automatically allayed with the prospect of a forthcoming break.

So, I recommend that you retain the poise and constructive amount of anxiety of final exam week and preserve these sensible sentiments for your standardized testing day. You will be glad you did when you receive numerous “We are pleased to inform you….” letters to the most reputable of graduate schools. That is, until you are seated to take your respective medical boards and bar exam—then it’s time to worry.


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