October 1980 marked a significant month that has since returned to haunt me. It was the last month I was eligible to take the SAT exam prior to college application deadlines. I remember the day well because it was the bleakest day of the year. Reluctantly, (I say this because I knew I was setting myself up) I stayed out late with friends the night before, succumbing to peer pressures to stay up late…stupid. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now. As a result of staying out late, I was tired, rushed and late for my SAT exam. Consequently, I didn’t eat anything, felt a cold coming on and could barely see the road in front of me driving to Sonoma State University to take the exam (it was so memorable, I hardly remember checking in, with barely a pencil to my name). This one day and the scores that ultimately resulted from it set the course of my future in ways I never expected. My scores were laughably average in so many ways. They told the story of the night before, being late and the terrible October weather. They told the story of a student who had storm going on in her brain because the questions might as well have been in Greek.
I was an AP student at a private high school. When the scores showed up, my parents asked what the numbers meant and in my head I responded “well, they mean that I will be applying to the junior college and maybe a state school; however Notre Dame is just going to have to wait.” “These aren’t too bad” was what I actually said. My epiphany in the experience of taking the SAT exam was simply this; standardized testing had nothing at all to do with intelligence. It has everything to do with how much money one spends on fancy test prep books, test prep courses and sheer luck. Of course, the sleep factor is important, as well sharpened #2 pencils, good bubble technique and a clear head. Good weather helps too. I hated that test and have since developed a strong opinion on standardized testing as a way to single out clever people who may possess little if any common sense. I worked in my careers with people who were book smart, but bad managers. They may have scored high on their HS SATs but they had little sense about people or good business decisions. Ah, but I digress.
I know there are many people who are largely Einsteinean, attended Ivy League schools on the heels of their awesome SAT scores and I congratulate them all. Good for you. Please don’t take offense at my disdain for standardized testing. It obviously has measured many things; but it doesn’t measure ability, character or the willingness to work hard and achieve greatness in themselves or motivate others.
It’s been a long time since 1980. Middle agers returning to school (that would be me) want to be nurses. We’ve had a lot of life experience. We’ve raised families. In the midst of this we returned to schools and enrolled in hard science classes. We studied hard, often late and into a state of exhaustion, in some cases to the detriment of our real lives. Knowing that hard work pays off, lo and behold we earned high grades. We are so excited about the possibility of becoming nurses, helping to ease the pain and suffering of those who need our compassion and knowledge, our caring and concern, and our smarts, we earnestly apply to wonderful, local accredited nursing programs, where we know the training will be excellent and the experience worthwhile….but wait! No, say it isn’t so…there is a little test we need you to take. It’s called the TEAS test. Huh? It’s just a little assessment test. I thought I just took a whole bunch of tests (you know the ones that I took in chemistry, microbiology and anatomy and physiology)?
Sacramento State University has decided that if one desires to obtain a 2nd bachelor’s degree, one now needs to take a Graduate school record examination (the GRE exam- the exam that kids take to get into Master and Doctoral programs) Excellent grades simply aren’t enough. Standardized tests carry as much weight as the grades and the performance of a single exam on a given day (in a single testing environment) will determine whether or not you will be admitted to a nursing program. I thought that’s what the boards were all about. I was expecting the NCLEX, but not this, not now. I thought I put this behind me 28 years ago. So history repeats itself once again and as I stare at my GRE scores in disbelief and anticipate the TEAS test this week, I study hard but I’m not sure it will be enough.
The weather is better this time. I don’t succumb to peer-pressure anymore, not since turning 40, and I have plenty of #2 pencils. My eraser is 6 inches long and I am mad as hell. My hypothetical patient, Mr. Johnson, is waiting in the wings for me to scale this Everest. Ok. I'll try Mr. Johnson, only for you. Standardized tests don’t define the kind of nurse I will be. There ought to be a law.