Saturday, April 9, 2011

Well, That Was 4 Weeks of Wasted Time....

This afternoon I took the PLACE English exam for teacher certification in Colorado. As I mentioned previously, I was stoked to get a study guide via the inter-library loan system and I was confident in my baseline knowledge of the subject matter. I studied for about 5 weeks, although the first week was just reviewing and figuring out a plan of attack for studying, so basically 4 full weeks of studying took place. By yesterday I had read the book cover to cover four times, researched online for practice tests, made study guides, and pretty much memorized a 6 page foldout by SparkNotes on Literature (terms, periods, literary criticism, etc.). After all was said and done, I had pretty much memorized the book and every date, literary period, influential author, and grammar rule under the sun (most I already knew, but it was all a great review).

I was confident going into the test this afternoon. By 5 questions in, I was pretty certain I had no idea if I was going to pass it or fail it. I've taken a LOT of standardized tests in my day. And I can safely say that the PLACE English exam is the most poorly written one I have ever had the dubious "opportunity" to try and decipher. The questions were badly worded and ambiguous, the answers were subjective and seemingly unrelated to the questions...I would have laughed out loud if it wasn't so damned frustrating. On top of the terrible test format, guess what? Oh, nothing I studied in the PLACE study guide was actually, you know, on the test, with the exception of giving speeches. Related to that, strangely fully half of the test was over advertising and the media, and giving and writing speeches. Only about 5 questions were about grammar and punctuation. Some of the questions were almost suspiciously subjective, with very clear morals and values being promoted or denigrated....overall, it was the worst testing experience I have ever had, hands down, in my entire life. I'm good at taking standardized tests, I know how to work them- I made a 29 on my ACT, a 1450 on my PSAT, and a 1370 on my SAT. I say that not to brag, but to reinforce that this is not just that I'm a poor test taker, but that the test was a glaring anomaly in my long history, from high school through grad school, of generally kicking ass at tests. I have truly no idea if I aced it or failed miserably. I have never had such a confusing, frustrating experience with a test. There have been times when I have known I gave the wrong answer, but fully a third of the questions were so subjective and strange that I couldn't even place bets as to whether or not I answered them correctly. I felt like there was some sort of general philosophy, or ideology, that I was being tested on, that I was unaware I would be tested on until I got into the exam room. 

I got home and googled around a bit, and it seems that many people have had the same experience. All I know is that I literally wasted 4 weeks of studying, because none of it prepared me for what I had to wade through and interpret today. I want to reiterate that the questions were NOT hard- it wasn't a matter of a question referencing a specific literary period and asking me to identify an author from it, or asking for the definition of a term that I simply didn't know- the questions were flat out obtuse and nonsensical. I had to make conjectures as to what the question was asking, and then I had further theorize as to what rambling, pointlessly detailed answer was the most relevant to the question. 

I truly have no idea how that test is any kind of reliably predictive indicator of who will make an effective teacher. I get my results in April, and if I fail it I will be equal parts pissed off and embarrassed. I'll also be annoyed because I'll have to take two summer school classes so that I can meet the college credit requirement, so June will be spent taking two intensive classes, 6 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a month. 

I really, really hope I passed.


  1. I hope you passed too, ugh that sucks. Well, we're one step closer to understanding what's wrong with our education system.

  2. That is the damn truth. Here's an example of how most of the questions were worded/set up-

    Paraphrased- Question: A concerned citizen wants to write a letter to the editor regarding forced busing. Before she writes the letter, what should she consider?
    - Whether or not the letter will affect her reputation
    -Whether or not there is a broad base of support for her opinion
    -Whether or not her writing style matches the newspaper's style of writing
    - Whether or not her opinion needs to be expressed now, in such a way

    To me, you shouldn't care if your opinion is held by other people, or if it will affect your reputation, you should express yourself which is the point of a letter to the editor! Yet that left me to choose between the last two options, both of which also seemed ridiculous and beside the point....

  3. Ugh. How frustrating. I hate it when that happens.

    That is completely irrelevant to what you studied, And for the English exam? Really?

    I hope it works out for the best!

  4. Me too Rachael! I just kept thinking that it was like a philosopher on crack who knew nothing about teaching English decided to play a joke and write the test... that's the only explanation I can come up with. It almost, at times, read more like a personality test- you know, the ones you take for employment screening, that are judging values and character more than anything else, and supposedly there are no "right answers"? Questions like the one above were all over the test. It was weird.

  5. Ahhh! I had basically the exact same experience with the MTEL for High School English (Massachusetts teacher certification tests). I studied for a month straight, knew everything, and all the questions were awful. More than half of them were about literature written in languages other than English, and most of the ones that weren't were subjective and terrible. I teach standardized tests for a living and my masters degree studies were focused on testing, so it was infuriating.

    I say all this to tell you that I not only passed, but apparently passed with flying colors, even though I felt like I got everything wrong. Why? Because everyone else took the same horrible test you did. So even if you were bad at it, you were probably better than everyone else. If you're good at tests, I'm sure you were good at figuring out what the subjective, ridiculous answers were supposed to be.

    Yay, teaching.

  6. Live- I can't tell you how much better your comment makes me feel! I'm glad that you had a similar experience, if only selfishly because that makes me feel like I'm not a crazy person. Here's to a good result on April 25th!

  7. At least you find out soon! Fingers crossed. I swear to you there was entire set of questions about the Bhagavad Gita on our ENGLISH LITERATURE test. Let us know how it goes! Er, went. -jane