Creating a Better AP Test

FunnyAPTestOkay, ladies and gentle-teens*, it’s no secret that we haven’t posted for most of May. Those of you who’ve followed this blog since it was conceived way back in 2011 know that’s fairly unusual.

*Legal disclaimer: there is no such thing as a gentle male teen. Never stick your fingers through the bars at a male teen, even if he has just been fed.

I’m not, however, about to apologize. Why? Well, first of all, “apologize” isn’t in the lexicon of a teenager. (Neither is “lexicon,” so I’m not really sure how that works). Secondly, because I’m about to propose changes to our AP test system so bold that the font is bold. Ladies and not-so-gentle-teens, let me give you: A Better AP Test.

Yes, you read that right. I’m proposing that I might know something more than the entire AP test system. In reality, it’s probably because I’m too ignorant to realize some fatal flaw in the plans, but I’d like to think it’s because my sleep-deprived brain is more intelligent than the fifty buzzards and half-a-dozen people that run the AP tests.

But don’t be too surprised. Chances are, you’ve taken—or at least heard the horror stories about—AP tests. You know that they are far from perfect. How hard could it be to improve them?

The FRQs

By far, the worst part of most AP tests is the FRQ section. That fact alone has led to a number of profane false-acronyms for the letters FRQ, all of which are too graphic to reprint on this blog*. If you didn’t know, FRQ stands for “Free-Response Question.”

*Okay, fine. Parents, cover your eyes. FRQ: Frivolous Ridiculous Question. Or, FRQ: Fictional Redundant Quiches. Or, if you live in the inner city, FRQ: Fuhcryinoutloud, Restless Quilts!

The main problem with the FRQs is that they must be handwritten, and that’s a big deal. Most teens haven’t handwritten anything longer than their names in the past six years, and some people, with long names like Frederickson or Anishamashkavysch, just carry around a pocket typewriter instead. Since the FRQs are generally two hours of nonstop writing, it’s no wonder that our wrists end up sporadically twitching like a dying rat by the end of the test.

To add to that handwriting anxiety, the FRQs must be handwritten in pen, not the pencils we’re so used to. What’s a pen, you might ask? I don’t really know. I haven’t seen one outside of a natural history museum, although I think/hope I remembered to use one on the AP test. (Since I blacked out promptly afterwards, I can’t recall).

The point I’m trying to make is: you’re using your hand to write, which you haven’t done since you were in third grade, and you’re using a pen, which hasn’t been the writing implement of choice since your parents were in third grade.

How can we fix this? The solution is pretty obvious: a federally mandated education program that emphasizes pen skills and handwriting endurance. Since that violates the whole “cruel and unusual punishment” part of the Bill of Rights, though, I propose a backup solution: typing the FRQs.

Backup solution? Shouldn’t that be the more logical first choice, you ask? Not at all. In fact, this solution would be hard to convince people of. For example purposes, let me give you a possible conversation between an opponent and myself:

Opponent: You can’t let people use computers! That places an unfair emphasis on people with computers at home!

Me: You can’t let people use pens! That places an unfair emphasis on people with pens at home!

Opponent: Yes, but pens are cheaper. It’s easier to get a pen to practice with.

Me: True, but pens are from the Stone Age. You’re discouraging technological advancement. People like you are the reason why we haven’t yet invented 4-D printers.

Opponent: That doesn’t make any logical sense.

Me: So?

As you can see, it could be difficult to get CollegeBoard to adopt a computer-based FRQ.

In addition to the possible wealth bias, if we could type the FRQs you could see:

  • FRQs getting hacked by the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
  • Problems arising when 5% of the computers crash after an hour, due to running Windows 1748
  • future PTSD attacks brought on by the sound of many people typing loudly
  • An increase in cancer, ebola, and E.coli deaths
  • A war with Switzerland

Although my answer to every one of those problems remains “So?”—except to the part about the FSA hacking essays, to which my answer is, “Awesome! I hope they know all about the Great Depression!”—I don’t think that people will be too receptive.

Therefore, that brings me to the third, and best, option: just eliminate the FRQ section altogether. That would transform a four-hour grueling examination into a 60- or 90-minute get-out-of-class-free test. After all, how could the FRQ section have a single problem if it didn’t exist? By definition, it’s perfect.

To make up for our absence during May, the brutal AP test month, this post is quite long and will be broken up into parts over the next few days. Check back tomorrow to read all about how to revise the Proctor’s official instructions. (Here’s the link to the now-posted Part 2: The Proctor’s Dialogue.)

Everything You Need to Know to Pass the Driving Test

FunnyDriversTestSheetMost teens are eager to get their driver’s license. So eager, in fact, that the Princeton Review is considering publishing a driving-test booklet for the written test.*

*That’s probably not true. If it is true, I’ll probably get sued for revealing trade secrets. (“The Princeton Review: Cracking the Circuit Court, 2013 Edition.”)

Unfortunately, the state governments have created a number of obstacles to getting your license, mostly to appease the ultra-powerful common sense lobby. Some of these obstacles are straightforward, like speed bumps—originally created to make driving less comfortable for teens, although this backfired after teens interpreted them as jump ramps—while others are more obscure, like the law that says any car given to a teen has to have at least three dents, with at least one of them coming from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nonetheless, teens still manage to obtain licenses as soon as possible, often earning them on their 16th or 17th birthday. Of course, to do so, one must pass both the written test and driving test. (A few very talented teens have actually passed both at the same time, with the help of a steering-wheel desk). And, while we’ve previously told you how to cruise right through that written test, we have not yet touched upon the driving test.

At some point, you’ve probably asked yourself: why do you do this? Why do you reveal the secrets to tests created to keep people safe on the road?

Well, to that I have two answers. The first is that you’re a better driver than many already on the road, so it’s not like you’re making it that much less safe. After all, neither 80-year-old drivers nor NASCAR professionals drive the speed limit. (One theory is that the 80-year-olds are trying to somehow compensate for all of the people speeding. It’s worked fairly well, too: if you’re going 25mph on the freeway, it’s easy to avoid the NASCAR racer driving at a 90-degree angle on the vertical cement divider.)

The second answer is that I’m here to help you, of course. And by you, I mean me, sort of how most people usually mean “me” when they say “you.” (For example: “I love you.”). If you pass the driving tests without too much studying, you’re more likely to read this blog in all that extra spare time.

So, without further ado, just how are you going to pass the driving test?

The First Impression

You’ll be nervous. If you normally sweat, don’t drink anything for three weeks before the driving test. You know what they say: dead men don’t sweat.

After all, to establish a good rapport with your evaluator, you’re going to want to shake their hand as soon as they get in your car. To establish a really good rapport, slide out of the handshake, slap back-and-forth with your hand, and then fist-bump-explode out. (This is not recommended for evaluators over the age of 30).

You should also make sure that your car is clean, especially concerning the dead bodies in your back seat. If you can’t move them on your own, then it’s generally acceptable to just put them in a nice suit and tie. This also involves removing anything that’s on your dashboard or hanging from your mirror, such as dice.

Hanging dice from mirrors has a lot in common with 90% of all teen fashion, in that nobody knows why others think it is a good idea. I mean, are you playing Parcheesi with other drivers at a red light? If you can’t wait until you get home to do that, I think you should see an addiction specialist.

The Stop Signs

As a general rule, you need to emphasize that you can drive safely, correctly, and with your eyes open.

Most teens have trouble with stop signs. This is because many people have incorrectly assumed that these red, octagonal signs are a massive federally funded anti-smoking campaign, and that they are strategically placed at busy intersections where people are most likely to see them. So, when you stop, it will feel like an eternity compared to the drivers around you, who often speed up through stop signs to demonstrate their true level of nonchalance.

And why do people hate stopping? Because it takes time. Since you have to stop during the driving test, however, you might as well not let that time go to waste. So, bring your English novel and read a chapter at every stop sign. If your driving evaluator starts to look impatient, that’s just ‘cause they don’t want to be excluded from the story. This is solved by reading aloud to them, unless it is Wuthering Heights, in which case, they will be required by law to automatically fail you.

The Lane Merging

Merging is something not covered in most written tests, because when written, it seems simple: turn on your signal and pull into a gap in the adjacent lane.

This simplistic description, however, doesn’t take into account the fact that there are no gaps in the adjacent lane, and all of the cars and drivers in the adjacent lane are devoted to ensuring that no gaps appear. In fact, even if a brick wall suddenly appeared in the lane, one study found that 90% of drivers will attempt to drive through it to prevent any gaps in the lane from forming*.

*Unsurprisingly, this study took place in San Francisco.

Now, on any normal route, most teen drivers think ahead as to what lane they need to be in. If necessary, we’ll track that lane up to 50 miles opposite direction until we can find where it starts, just to avoid any lane changes. On the driving test, though, the state wants to see if you can change lanes at a moment’s notice, I guess to add some excitement to the driving evaluators’ otherwise dull jobs of spending 10 hours a day in a car with someone who learned to drive yesterday.

While there are many terrific strategies to merging quickly—such as merging and then signaling, or finding a VW Bug and just bumping it out of the lane—on the driving test, you’re bound by the law. This means that other drivers will be aware that you’re trying to merge, and compensate adequately by making faces at you as they speed up to close any lane gaps to within an inch.

To add to that stress, most driving tests involve a lane change when the lane ends, meaning you’re going to have a limited amount of time to merge before you hit the concrete wall that people think it’s a good idea to end lanes with.

So, the merging advice is simple. You need to find the toughest bumper stickers you can and place them on your car. “If you don’t eat jalapenos peppers before your morning coffee, you’re not alive!” or “Yeah, I lost an arm fighting off a pack of rabid wolves, but at least I didn’t lose my compass.” You’d be an idiot to not to allow these sort of people to merge, and a gap in the lane will appear for you.

The “Awareness”

One of the other things you’re evaluated on is how “aware” of your surroundings you appear to be. The key word there is “appear.”

Obviously, you don’t want to wear sunglasses, obscuring your eyes and making it impossible for the evaluator to tell if you check your mirrors. In fact, most people suggest wearing a baseball hat so that it is obvious when you turn your head to check mirrors. To make that an even better idea, you should wear one of those jester hats with the bells. Now, not only is it visually obvious that you’re turning your head, it’s also audibly obvious. Plus, if you take the exam sometime in the Christmas season, the driving instructor won’t even think you’re a total freak—just slightly deranged.

The other thing you can do to appear more aware is to offer commentary on your surroundings. For example, when you check your left side mirror, you might say something like: “Wow, that blue van behind me has a major dent on its left side and some metal stuck in its front left tire. It must have hit an inexperienced merging driver a few minutes ago. Hey, look! You can even see the driver who was trying to merge; he’s clinging to the back bumper.”

Conclusion

I’ll confess that I haven’t told you everything you need to know to pass the driving test. I didn’t mention the whole part about taking yellow lights at mach 3, or braking hard before sharp turns to get that cool movie-style screech. I did hit on the major points, however, and that’s all you need. After all, if the DMV says you only need an 80% on the driving test to pass, that’s good enough for me. Even if that 20% failed includes things such as knocking down mailboxes—although, really, you probably just saved them from some college mail anyways.

Yeah, I’m still here. Trust me, I’ll let you know if I ever plan to stop posting. Otherwise, just assume that the next post, as always, will be coming as soon as my junior-year-is-crazy schedule allows. If you’ve liked the blog, you can stay more up-to-date, as I’ll try to post on the Facebook page about any kinks in the posting schedule. (To make up for that long gap, this post is longer than usual.)

And, of course, there’s always the archives to browse if you get impatient. Which brings me to not one, but two terrific posts published in March last year. The first consists of some hilarious summaries of some “classic” English novels, and is one of my personal favorites. The second is some outstanding backpack fashion advice, entitled “6 Awesome Ways to Wear Your Backpack.”

The State Writing Test: Not Your Average Standardized Test

StateWritingTestsFunnyHidden behind the big-name tests like the PSAT, SAT, AT, just plain T, etc. is a lesser-known but more important test: the state writing test. It’s more important because in most states, if you don’t pass, you can’t graduate from high school, whereas with something like the ACT, you can get as low as a 35 out of 2400 and be sought after by colleges.

But let’s back up for one second. The state writing test is not nearly as stressful as the SAT. In fact, it almost seems like a standardized test done right. Almost.

The Premise

The idea of the state writing test is to test your writing ability. And unlike other standardized tests, that is actually true. Sure, no boss is going to ask you, “Can you read this passage and then tell me why the main character sighs on line 23?” but many jobs involve writing things like legal disclaimers, memos, and legal disclaimers for memos.

The Bubbles

The bubbles at the beginning are truly why this test is so wonderful: they’re already filled in by some sort of ominous black circle-stamping machine. Whereas with the SAT you must pay $87 and submit an address, phone number, email, photo, and blood sample, and then have to fill in your own name, the state writing test already knows you exist, all for the cost of $0. Unfortunately, however, if any of the information is incorrect, there is no way to fix it, so you can either be Hpil (female) with a high school diploma or Phil (male) without one.

The Rules

The rules of the test are not nearly as nice as the bubbles, unfortunately. To begin with, you must fit your entire work onto the one page (front and back) provided, and you can’t draw extra lines in between the lines, nor extra lines in between the extra lines in between the lines, even if you’re writing the next great American formulaic sequel-after-sequel book series with a possible movie deal.

Also, you can’t use excessive profanity or vulgarity, which means just about everything you’ve ever learned from your favorite movies about writing artful dialogue or creating gripping plots is useless.

Furthermore, you aren’t allowed to research or talk with others about your writing, closing off the valuable essay resources of Facebook and Yahoo Answers.

But worst of all, you aren’t allowed the internet, period, and spelling is more heavily weighted than in an SAT essay. How are you supposed to Google whether it’s “unneccessarrillyy” or “unecesarily?” Sure, you’re allowed to use something called a “dikshonary,” but I don’t think that would help. It’s just a big heavy book with the alphabet written on the side in little flaps, I guess in case you forget how to write, like, a capital “G.”

The Prompts

The state writing test has 4 prompts (at least in my state), which initially appears quite nice. Sure, it’s more than the number of prompts on the SAT or ACT, but once you get down to it, the prompts are really no better.

Usually, they fall into four distinct categories: expository, persuasive, self-narrative, and imaginative. For example, your prompts might be:

  • Imagine that you are eating a piece of fruit, and it starts talking to you. Write about the conversation you have and the valuable life advice you gain from your produce.
  • A group of basketball players is playing basketball. Persuade them that golf is a more athletic sport.
  • Many people visit the beach and play in the sand. Write about a time when you went snowboarding.
  • Explain how to make your favorite food. Include measurements, preparation tips, and whether you used outspoken or mute ingredients.

Other Things of Note

While all that may sound pretty straightforward, there are a few other things everyone should know.

To begin with, you have unlimited time during the state writing test. So, if you get really involved in your analysis of golf, you can spend weeks, or even months, perfecting your arguments. Sure, you’ll miss a lot of class and have a ton of makeup work, but at least the next time you go to a Heat game you can convince LeBron to finally pick up golf.

But, as we’ve seen in regards to prompts or bubbles, unlimited time isn’t the only advantage these writing tests have over other standardized tests. In addition, regular standardized tests like the SAT have been accused of being biased against minorities, the poor, or the illiterate. The state writing test, however, is much less biased: you can write your essay/story in either English or Spanish! Although in retrospect, I’m sure there are people who argue that this is simply evidence of anti-Slovakian bias.

Whether or not you like them, state writing tests are a graduation requirement, and are thus pretty much unavoidable. Sure, the prompts are stupid, and the rules are restricting, but let’s face it: at least it isn’t graded on neatness of handwriting. If it was, it would take most of us over a decade to finally pass. And 26-year-old high schoolers just don’t strike me as good thing.

Along with the state writing test, the new semester usually brings new classes, and with them, new syllabi. Which means you’ll probably want to check out, “The Only Guide to Class Syllabi that You’ll Ever Need,” published at this time last year.

The 3 Major Problems with Multiple Choice Tests

If you’ve ever taken a multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubbles test, then you know that you MUST use a #2 pencil to fill in your answers. If you’ve never taken such a test, congratulations: you probably live on one of those miniscule islands in the Caribbean that’s so small that if you accidentally have too much for dinner, the whole island sinks. You’ve never had to go through the mentally scarring experience of such a test. Plus, you probably have a nice tan.

My guess is that most of you have dealt with a multiple choice test, or MC test. Contrary to popular belief, MC test doesn’t stand for multiple choice test, but rather, Malicious Cruel test.

This acronym has nothing to do with the content of the test itself. You could be tested on the names of common household appliances, such as “toaster,” “sink,” and “plutonium centrifuge,” and still miss over half of the questions purely due to the format of the test.

The #2 Pencil

Let’s think about this for a second. You are handed a blank answer form. Then, you shade in certain bubbles on the answer form. How dumb does a scanning machine have to be to be unable to tell the difference between a blank form and a filled in form? Why is it that the machine only detects a #2 pencil?

Humans certainly can’t tell the difference between a #2 pencil and a #1.5 pencil. Who thought this was an important thing to incorporate into these machines?

Plus, when it comes down to it, nobody knows what #2 stands for. I’d guess that it probably indicates that these pencils were made for the 2nd best scanning machines. The best scanning machines could handle pencils, pens, and crayons, but we use the 2nd best machines, and thus, the #2.

Sensitive Machines

Even if you have a #2 pencil, that’s not always enough. If you can’t shade in the bubble itself to the specifications of a temperamental machine, then you will still get the wrong answer. This means you cannot mark your answers lightly, incompletely, with a scribble, with a bull’s-eye design, with imperfect uniformity, halfheartedly, unenthusiastically, or even apathetically. If you are not fully enthused when marking in your answers darkly, then you are certain to fail the test.

Erased Answers

The other problem with the bubbles is erased marks. Again, we can see that the machines are stupider than the humans*. On a written math test, if you wrote “x=4,” then erased the 4 so that you could only faintly make it out, and then wrote a much darker “5” in that same space, your teacher would assume that you meant “x=5.”

*I will probably be killed by a robot in 2040 for that statement.

For scantron machines, however, this simply blows their minds. If you present it with a very light, erased bubble, and a very dark bubble, the machine assumes that you think there were two correct answers. Thus, you get the question wrong.

Thankfully, the failure to recognize erased marks is only a recent development. Otherwise, well, just imagine the historical implications. “The Supreme Court ruled today, after carefully examining the constitution under a magnifying glass, that due to some obscure erased marks, citizens only have a right to ‘bare’ arms, that is, to wear tank tops or other sleeveless garments.”

With all of these problems, one would think that teens would have revolted against MC tests by now. Even with all of these issues, however, that line of thinking is incorrect: teens would never, ever do anything to get rid of MC tests.

Why? Because even though you have to bubble in your answers using more care than a brain surgeon, multiple-choice tests allow for guessing. On a history test, you may have no idea when Franklin Pierce was president. On a writing test, you might take a hilariously bad guess, such as “from 1414-1418.” But on a multiple-choice test, you automatically have a 1 in 4 (or 5) chance of getting the answer correct! Heck, you could mark “D” every time, and have a solid shot at getting a D!

So, even with all of their shortcomings, we should all be thankful for Malicious Cruel tests. I mean, at least our education system, which invented these tests, doesn’t have any actual influence over the future of our country, right?

As the impending doom of the so-called “fiscal cliff” approaches, you might be worried that our government is failing to do its duties. One possible solution would be to simply replace every official with a teacher, an idea explored in “If Teachers Ran the US Federal Government…“, a post published this time last year.