The Bubbles (at the Beginning of Standardized Tests) are Not Your Friend

You should figure out why you can't see this pictureIf you’ve ever taken a standardized test, then you know that there is one thing the prep books don’t prep you on. One thing the practice tests don’t practice. And one thing that the teachers never teach you.

And that one thing is: [dramatic pause]

[really dramatic pause]

[Dramatic pause with a capital ‘d’]

The bubbles.

Just saying the name gives me shivers.

You see, at the beginning of each standardized test, there are bubbles. Present on the front and back of the answer sheet, they must be completed before you can actually take the test. You think that that doesn’t sound awful? Read on.

The Personal Information

The first questions you will have to ‘answer’ deal with basic things, like your name. But it’s not that easy.

You see, it has to be last name, then first name, and then middle initial. Then, you have to fill out the right bubble for each letter under the letters in your name (bubbles from a-z are present). Then, you have to write a short essay about what your name means, if you have any nicknames, and your twitter handle.

Next, the proctor will mention that any personal information you put down will have to remain the same for all tests you take. That means that if you make a mistake on even one bubble, you will either be known as Hpil for the rest of your life or will have your subsequent tests tossed out (tests that you spent more time studying for than the total time you’ve spent asleep for your entire life) because of the discrepancy. That’s what I call pressure.

Moving on, the test will ask you for even more personally identifying information. They want your address. Your school. Your gender. Grade. Date. Fingerprints. Dental records.

Take any joke about identity scams, and it always will end with “…and your social security number.” Well, they want your social security number. And I’m not joking. I usually just take my neighbor’s, who usually took his neighbor’s, who took the number from the guy in front of him, and so on, so that the entire classroom puts down the social security number of the guy in the front-left corner. And that guy just put down his birthday.

The Unpredictable Survey Questions

At least, with the personal information questions, you know the answers. That isn’t true with the next batch of questions.

First, they’ll ask about your parents: level of education of each, the type of degree each has, what each had for breakfast, etc. There will be a bubble for each answer, including a bubble for each type of breakfast food. You have no idea how many bubbles that is.

Then, they will want to know information about you in regards to the test.

Why are you taking the test?
Answers include: because your teacher told you to, because you want college credit, because you want to demonstrate your ability, or because you are insane and enjoy studying upwards of 200 hours a week*.

How did you prepare for the test?
Answers for this one include: you took a prep class, you took a class for it at school, you studied 200 hours a week, or you sacrificed your calculator to the omnipotent College Board celestial being.

Finally, they will ask questions that the lawyers wrote.

For example: By checking the box below, you grant College Board, and all of its affiliates, a royalty-free license to republish any of your submitted work without personally identifying information for educational purposes, as well as allowing College Board to steal your social security number and name, not to mention what your parents had for breakfast, for educational and statistical purposes in addition to making a lot of money on the black market. (If you do not check the box below, we will do all that anyway henceforth, so you might as well check the box).

*There aren’t actually 200 hours in a week. That’s how much you were studying.

The Tempo

During all these questions, you will be instructed when to move on. The proctor for the test can only tell you to move on once everyone has finished. That means you have to wait while Aramanthurson Queesleberry-Smith bubbles in his entire name until you can even start bubbling in the date.

Sure, you could go on and hope you don’t get caught. But if you get caught, who knows what the proctor will do. They’ve already drilled holes in the whiteboard in the back of the room using only their eyes. And they have sparks coming from their hair.

What this means for you in the long run, though, is that not only are you stressing about each answer that you bubble, from grade level to address, you spend an insanely long time in this state of anxiety. On average, this bubbling takes three to eight hours, just for one test.

They do that on purpose, of course. This way, by the time you actually take the test, you are so brain-dead that you’ve forgotten all the information you studied. Meaning you fail, or, at best, pass with the lowest possible score, a score so disgraceful that many college-admissions officers burn your application on sight and then atomize the ashes.

So, while you already knew that standardized tests are worse than eating a brussel-sprout spinach green-bean mayonnaise hot pepper casserole that has been reheated in the microwave so many times that it glows, you are now also familiar with the bubbles. And these bubbles, unlike the innocent soap-wands of your childhood so long forgotten it might as well have been a lecture in history class, are NOT your friend.

Last year we brought you “The Problems and Uses of Trust Falls,” which is all about AP tests as well. No, actually, it’s about trust falls. To quote one commenter, it’s “funny as hell.” You should definitely check it out.

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  1. I really hate the bubbles…but we did them at school so that once we got to the testing location we wouldn’t have to waste time doing the bubbling!

    • That helps, but the questions and stress don’t really change. When I grow up, I probably won’t remember any specific questions on my standardized tests, but I will remember the bubbles. I’ve been scarred for life.

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