The Power of Tests: What We Don’t Learn Won’t Hurt Us

Chapter 2 of Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue University
Sitting today in the milieu of a studious crowd of students, pressing eagerly ahead on Anatomy, Pharmacy, or Physics test preparations, one realizes that for all those tests, most of the knowledge learnt will come from the actuality of doing it, later. Sure, I like my pharmacological people to know what they are giving me, but just one test – as a particular group stressed out about it – is not going to make or break one’s career at handing out drugs.

A test is snapshot – like those Polaroids we used to love – of what we know until now about our treasured subject. To put it all in perspective, I took a final exam, Engineering in Training (EIT) , which was to cover a whole cornucopia of topics that – in hindsight – I knew shit-all about going into my last month in 1996. Yet, I passed with a 78 score. (The test is, of course, scaled. 70 is a passing grade.)
The fun topics I slogged through on this test:

  • Mathematics
  • Engineering Probability and Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Computers
  • Ethics and Business Practices
  • Engineering Economics
  • Engineering Mechanics (Statics and Dynamics)
  • Strength of Materials
  • Material Properties
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Thermodynamics

The recent rates of passing the exam run across the gambit, but it looks like about 7 in 10 made it in 2010, across several disciplines of Engineering. Assuming the test has not become signficantly more difficult, I’d surmise I was able to do what 35% of my brethren in the field could not on the first attempt. (And I had a 2.07 GPA.)

Tests mean nothing. I proved it too in my work as an Industrial Engineer. Basically using common sense (the little God gave me) and tools I found to do whatever the task entailed. I never proceeded to the Professional Engineer (P.E.) level because:

  1. Never had a P.E. to learn from
  2. It rarely matters in Industrial (Civil, Structural, Material, Mechanical, yes indeed)
  3. You get a bit more pay, a whole bunch more liability, just like a Doctor or lawyer

So, sweating your ass over a single test is pointless. You can learn a test – this one, in particular – and what is the use of that in life. It did not matter much in mine…

The power of tests is you must pass only a few in life to become memorable. The ones I suppose we all know about:

  • Personal Relationships that matter
  • Financial Competency so we can survive any setbacks, which will come
  • Spiritual Awareness so we can get through the worst days (and periods) of our lives
  • Healthy Living so the future is less painful and filled with enjoyment pass 65 or 70
  • A Legacy (children, life’s work, a business, etc) that people know you existed on this Earth

Those are the tests subjects you need to pass and engrain on the brain. I’ve failed all of them so far at 39. So to the four ladies who stressed out over an Anatomy exam: you’ll pass more interesting tests soon enough. And do it with a better grade than I got in the ‘real’ test subjects of life.

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