Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Condemned by examination

I love standardized tests. Although, as I attest often (and prove by deeds as well as words in this typographic error of a weblog), I lack a first rate mind,I fortunately test well, if not quite with a stellar flair. i love the a,b,c,d gamesmanship of the examination, and filling in the circles with the pencils, and the sheer frivolicious absurdity of it all. I hope that in Heaven they offer multiple choice examinations.

I spent insomnia time today reading message posts on a lawyer message board. The October Law School Admission Test results arrived for many hopeful undergraduates, hoping to be lawyers. On the LSAT, a 170+ amounts to a stellar score, 165+ a quite good score, 160+ a reasonably good score, and 150+ a run of the mill score. Although one can get into a law school with a 150, the law school admission one achieves with a 150 amounts to a pale shadow of the admit one gets with a 170.As many kids who apply to law school take rather fluffy undergraduate degrees in which 3.75s are not unduly difficult to achieve,
the failure to score a high LSAT score may be the first significant academic setback these pre-law kids experience.

The message board posts tend to a similar theme. They run "I had been scoring 165 in my practice examinations, but I just got my score back and it's a 152. I feel ill". It turns out, of course, that practice examinations do not do well as predictors of final scores. There is a "game day", for which, I theorize, one must learn to put on a "game face". I wonder if "game face" for the Law School Admission Test includes a mud pack.

There's an avalanche effect to all this law school admissions stuff. Larger law firms, notoriously "does our firm resume look good?" elitist places, hire from "elite" law schools more than from K-Mart U. Elite law schools get thousands upon thousands of applications from kids from solid colleges with 3.75s in poli sci.How does one weed them out? Why, the LSAT, of course.

I know I'm supposed to launch into an anti-standardized-test rant here, and say all the true things about how scores and people are different things. But please pardon me if I don't. Studies seem to show that LSAT is an imperfect but not useless indicia of law school performance. I do not share the devotion that some people have for "interpersonal" attention from admissions officers. I'd much rather trust a
fun fill in the blanks examination for admissions than trust the whims of admissions officers. Count me in the Loyal Opposition when it comes to human resources departments and admissions offices watching out for people.

The LSAT interests me, though, because it is not life or death. Frankly, one can do without being a lawyer and live an entirely workable life. It is tempting to add that one ought not be a lawyer to live an entirely workable life, but I am against self-negation.

Most people who take the LSAT will get into law school. When I was in college, medical school admissions with the MCAT literally meant the difference for pre-meds between admission and abject failure to succeed in a four year goal. In those days, doctoring seemed like a "one true way" to wealth and prestige (a signal, by the way, that our own middle class upbringing led us to overestimate the potential for both in the field).I failed to even get to the starting blocks on taking the MCAT, managing to eke out only a 3.02 undergraduate average. But I had frieds who were virtual geniuses fail to make high MCATs and have to abandon their dreams. The LSAT does not erase the dream of going to law school for very many people.

The LSAT instead merely determines the quality of one's admit. It's an economic thing. If one goes to
a school in the top 3, Harvard, Stanford or Yale, then one essentially can finish at the bottom of one's class in law school and still get a "dynamite" job. If one is in the top 20 or so, one will in all likelihood get a good job. If one goes to the lesser schools, then hard economic times will mean a struggle for all but the top 10 or 20 percent to find a top-paying job, though most will find a job (in down times, some will have to struggle for the first job, while some very few never latch on). Large law firms do pay attention to one's school and one's grades.

To digress a bit, I wonder if the purpose of career message boards is to placate and provide a speaker's forum to every malcontent in every field. My favorite law message board is filled with dissatisfied lawyers and ex-lawyers, whose mission in life is to post "don't go to law school" doom and gloom posts.
Some of them cite absurd statistics, like arguing that 85 percent of law grads don't get jobs (actually, all but a few law grads get jobs, and most make good money within a few years). I think that it must be a rule that everyone who ever failed to latch on at anything nonetheless managed to latch on to a careers board about that thing.

I posit a rule in life: Those who can, teach. Those who can't, practice. Those who can't teach or practice, post on message boards. Of course, I practice, and still post on message boards. Perhaps I suffer from messageboarditis.

The creeping testcentary of exams now inflicts itself upon high schoolers. Here in Texas, our two great public universities are the University of Texas and Texas A & M. Local kids need sky high SATs and good grades to get in, unless they finish in their top 10. Here in Collin County, our schools are top notch, filled with the hard-pushed and blue-ribboned kids of engineers, executives and other "my God my life will end if my child doesn't make all As and get into xyz university" parents. A lot of bright kids in the top quarter of their classes have to "settle" for admissions to schools not in the Ivy League or even in the University of Texas. Even the local alternative paper, wearied, apparently, of social justice and a hip music scene, spent a cover story on the tragic tales of kids who could not get into Amherst and had to accept a full scholarship to the University of Oklahoma instead. Pardon me if I play no violins for kids with a full scholarship to a fine school, whose lives will usually work out fine.

I wonder when perspective died. It had cancer for most of my childhood, eating away at its innards. Now it's dear departed, along with fan civility at youth softball games. When did people begin to imagine that they must have the best and own the best and be the best, or they are nothing?

I know people who worry they are not good people because they are not novelists or great artists.
I know people who feel perpetually that whatever they achieve, it's never enough. I see admirable poets who worry they are not better known admirable poets, people who really help people but feel inferior for not having more money, and people who long to live in 2600 square foot houses instead of 1700 square foot houses entirely suitable to their needs.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that people shouldn't try. I am all for effort. I think that people should work overtime to get what they want and seek. I am never in favor of folks just giving up, ofsurrendering to the "han", to the feeling that one is oppressed and alone and nothing works. I think it's great to try to score 173 on the LSAT and to try to go to Cornell Law School and to submit for publication and to read at open mike readings. I hate the elitist voice inside that people use to tell themselves not to try. I am all for going for goals.

But today I've been reading "I only got a 152 on the LSAT, I am devastated" message posts. Three words run through my mind. Those words are "Play your cards".

Some of us get the cards of top grades and top standardized tests, top jobs and top kudos. Others of us, for reasons of talent or aptitude or hard work or bad luck or lack of equal educational opportunity or just plain ineffable weirdness, don't get any of those things. A lot of us get some things, but not others.

But in the long run, whether you get your recording contract with Island Records, or whether you're
listing your CD (as I did, with spectacular single-digit sales) on eBay, you just play the cards you have. You just play the cards in your hand, and don't beat yourself up so much. It turns out the game, if played assiduously, is kinda fun. But you gotta play, and not just moan about your hand.
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