Saturday, 13 September 2008

What is the Difference Between Passing and Understanding

Stop me if you've heard this before:

What do you call a doctor who had the 2nd to lowest mark in his graduating class? 

As enamoured as people might be with the hilarious idea that someone who passed the test is as capable of the work as everyone else who's passed the test, I disagree...

I've passed a lot of tests over the years. A lot. 

Some of them, I even understood some of the material. 

One of the things everyone knows' is that there are techniques to taking tests which have to do with understanding testing schema rather than understanding the material being tested. 

The process of mastering 'test' in any given field of study is remarkably different than the ability to master the material being tested.

Everyone knows someone who is book smart but incapable of applying the information in the real world. They can often teach very well, but using the knowledge is a very different thing...'s an example from real life: one daughter's boyfriend passed out, late one night, in our kitchen. He made a lot of noise going down, he's tall, a full-grown man. First on the scene was our first-aid-certified younger daughter. She heard him go down and when she saw him lying on the floor and she did what she always did a crisis when she was 14: curled up in a ball (on the floor in the doorway to the kitchen) and screamed and cried.

She is certified. 

She took all the coursework, studied the book, passed the test. 

Can you see the problem? 

Add this: her dad is also certified and was on the scene almost immediately after me. What did he do? Hover in the next room asking unrelated questions, obviously, just as he is trained to do? He is actually certified at a much higher level, being in the military where everyone gets to take this stuff all the time, and has been for decades. left me (totally untrained) and our older daughter (certified with 'industry' first aid, to know when to call 911) to deal. 

We got cold, damp cloths, examined for head injury, checked for broken bones, pulled him out of the cupboard and watched to see what he'd do as he woke. We gave him juice and water, washed off his wounds, sat with him while he re-oriented himself and determined that he was fine, but bruised with a headache. 

Did we do the right thing? Who knows. 

The people who had already passed the test never told us...

The thing is, there are personality issues related to applying material just as there are personality issues in test-taking. 

Some people freak out with the pressure of taking tests, and fail although they know the material. Those people are unfortunate victims of our test-friendly society, because they're stopped doing what they can by failing a process that has no bearing on being capable of doing it. 

But it gets worse:

There are people walking around convinced that they are 'very good' at things that they aced on tests, without any awareness that the skills necessary to ace a test are very, very different than the skills necessary to perform in the real world. 

Sometimes that's kind of irritating but irrelevant, like when it's the hairstylist who isn't any good messes up your hair. 

Sometimes it's scary-dangerous, like when it's the anesthesiologist keeping you alive...