The Last Test

In order to qualify for state certification in Maryland, prospective teachers must pass a series of tests called the PRAXIS exams.  They are loads of fun, as you might imagine.  The first one, a general-knowledge test, was embarassingly easy and I regretted every minute of studying; afterward, I was miffed to learn that I actually could have submitted my SAT scores instead.  The second, a content-area knowledge test, was more challenging but still easier than I’d thought it would be, and again I studied much too long and hard: it was a 2-hour exam and I finished in about 45 minutes.  (This wouldn’t have been so bad except that it was about fifty degrees in the exam room; I was dressed appropriately for the July weather.  The proctor said that if I left before the test was over, my score would be canceled, so I tucked all four limbs into my T-shirt and huddled in the corner for another hour, taking breaks to go outside and warm up every so often.)

This last exam was based on pedagogy.  From what I could gather online, in one hour I had to answer two multi-part questions: the first about a work of literature and how I would go about teaching it, and the other in response to a piece of student writing.  Although I thought I could probably pass without studying, I had an added incentive in that the system itself was changing; if I failed this one, I would have to conform to Maryland’s new state requirements, which would mean a different test that combined pedagogy with content knowledge.  So I dutifully reviewed, compiling a list of seven works I thought were likely to be on the list and main features of each one.

Because I had registered late, all the testing centers in Maryland were booked solid, so I registered for Howard University in DC, consoling myself with the fact that a good friend lives nearby and we’ll have lunch afterwards.  The rest of the story is most effective with a timeline format:

9:15 Leave home half an hour early just in case of traffic.

10:15 Arrive half an hour early.

10:16 Slight panic about the lack of change for parking meters.  Resolve this by paying remotely with my cell phone (score one for technology!) and then leave it in the car, heeding the warning on my ticket.

10:20 Enter the testing center.  No discernible order, proctor or instructions anywhere, just a crowd of college kids scarfing down bagels and texting.  Wonder whether they are stupid or smart for ignoring the warning.

10:45 Test time comes and goes.  Nothing.

10:55 Woman in sweats and a T-shirt enters the lobby and assigns groups of students to different testing rooms.

11:00 My group arrives at its room.  The proctor is at the door, checking IDs and assigning seats.

11:05 Chatting in line with another student, I hear that the format of the test is completely different as of December (she failed the last one and is hoping for better luck on the new test.)  Different how?  All multiple choice, with a lot of questions about psychology, she says.

11:06 Blind panic.  Well, it’s too late to do anything now.

11:10 I am seated.  The proctor reads instructions in a heavily island-accented voice that would be charming if my own pulse would quiet down.  I can’t understand her pronunciation of “pedagogy,” which she says “ped-DA-go-JI.”

11:15 Tests are distributed. I ask casually when we’ll begin.  “Around 11:30.”  I really, really regret my obedience to the cell phone rule, since no one else’s has been confiscated and I’d like to let my friend know I’ll be almost an hour late.  Also, I’m wondering if I have any chance of passing this new test.

11:30 We begin filling out all the paperwork associated with the test.  Student ID number, Social Security number, zip code, test center code, university code, linkage number, serial number and probably more I’ve blocked from my memory.

11:45 Everyone finally finishes the paperwork and the test begins at exactly the time I thought we would be finishing up.

11:46 I look at the first question and know my hapless new friend was wrong.  The format is unchanged, and what’s more, two of the seven works I prepared are on the list.  I choose Hamlet and prepare to wow the graders with my extensive mental catalogue of quotes (I watched the Kenneth Branagh version on a continuous loop for most of 11th grade.)

12:45 The exam finishes and we have to endure yet another set of instructions, this one about when we will receive our scores and how to cancel them if we want to.  I wonder idly if this couldn’t be accomplished some more efficient manner, perhaps by an instantaneous system of electronic communication in advance … 

12:55 I arrive back at my car, happy that I paid for the maximum number of hours, and call my friend.  Lunch with her and her adorable daughter, at this homey-chic pub, is perfect.

As the conclusion to my test-taking career, I’d like to offer this brief meditation, with which I now sympathize just a little more.  I think they concentrated on pedagogy LAHHHST year.