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Standardize this! A frustrated student’s plea for change
I had one of the most upsetting experiences of my college life the other afternoon. Sitting at my desk, eyes glazed over, staring at the mind-numbingly boring online lecture for my MCAT prep course, I realized that something was very, very wrong. I had unwittingly fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum and had ended up back in high school.
After having a minor panic attack about missing homeroom, I realized that time travel is, unfortunately, not yet possible. Yet, I couldn’t think of any other reason why I was being spoken too by the MCAT TA’s disembodied voice like I was a stupid teenager.
Here I was, a junior in college, being treated as if the past few years had never happened. None of the activities that I’d thrown myself into meant a thing, nor did the lectures I’d loved, or the labs I’d suffered through. Midterms, finals, and the glorious few days at the beginning of the semester with no work, all gone. Once again, I was sent head-first into the horrible stupidity of the worst parts of high school. And no, I’m not talking about the politics of where to sit in the cafeteria.
From the Presidential Physical Fitness award to the SAT, before college it seemed like the only way to measure myself was by some soulless exam. I still shudder when I think about having to do those pull-ups, and standardized testing gives me nightmares of broken No. 2 pencils and improperly filled-in circles. It felt like everything that I was assessed by was graded on some impersonal scale that failed to take into account things like how much I hated running, or whether or not I understood some inane passage.
I’ve always hated standardized testing, from equal parts boredom and a horrible feeling that I was being condensed into a series of ticked boxes. For the SAT, there was no way that choosing option C on a question could possibly explain that I really was a smart person and deserved to get into college. I was just another faceless applicant with a number assigned on a scale up to 2400. Now, with the MCAT, I’m starting the whole disheartening process again.
I understand that tests like the MCAT, the LSAT, and all those other horrible acronyms are intended to level the field, making it fair for all applicants. I struggle though to accept that the only way to do so is by demoralizing students, reducing them to flat representations of their true selves. I am so much more than answers on a test trying to see if I was listening in that one Foundations of Biology lecture two and a half years ago, and I refuse to believe that the results the testing provides are sufficient to decide if I get to become a doctor.
Almost every professor I’ve had here at Georgetown has insisted on how I need to be able to truly understand what we were studying, instead of robotically memorizing and reciting factoids. I’m simply at a loss for why the MCAT, arguably the biggest test of my undergraduate career, is just throwing that advice out the window.
It’s not just the MCAT and nerdy pre-meds that suffer, though. Almost every field of study after college has an exam, and it’s a huge stumbling block for future plans. One test can mean the difference between becoming a lawyer, a doctor, or a PhD candidate, invalidating all the hard work put into every other aspect of your academic life.
This perverse insistence on standardized testing is an embarrassment to higher education. I’m not sure how we got to a place where being able to take a test is favored over well-rounded intelligence. It’s shaping generations of doctors, lawyers, and graduate students who care more about choosing the right option on a test than actually knowing anything, and that is unconscionable.
I’d like to think that there are some brain cells relaxing somewhere between my ears, and that I’ve been known on occasion to put them to good use. In fact, that’s a statement that could be used to describe Georgetown students on the whole. We study more than is healthy, we read journals for fun, and we argue with visiting dignitaries. We all know that we all have at least a modicum of intelligence, yet these tests won’t give us the chance to prove it when we most need to: for the sake of our futures.
My dream of becoming a doctor depends on how well I do on this one test, and I’ll grudgingly admit that I know I have to take it. I only hope that someone gets the bright idea of doing away the A, B, C, D, or Es of standardized testing and instead goes for none of the above.