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      This morning I awoke from a nightmare. No, it wasn’t one of those all too frequent Vietnam War combat nightmares. It was far worse. I was back in school. I was taking a math test, but I had no paper or pencil, and the problems were being flashed briefly on a screen in the front of the room. I could not get the teacher to stop the test until I could get a pencil and paper. The other students seemed to have no problem continuing.

       This type of nightmare was depicted beautifully by Val Kilmer in the comedy film “Top Secret.” In a dream sequence, he is running wildly through the hall of his school when he encounters a fellow student. He asks desperately where the chemistry final exam is being held. The student tells him that all of the exams are over. Val cries, “Oh No! I haven’t studied. I’m back in school!” At this point, he awakens to find that he is being whipped and beaten by mindless Nazi-like guards. He says, “Thank God!” I think we all would have a response similar to that of Val in this situation.

       In my senior year at Duke, I did something that must now give over one hundred of my fellow students similar nightmares.

      Enrolled in a graduate level experimental psychology course with Dr. Greg Smith, a respected researcher and textbook author in the 1960s, I had devised an experiment to determine the effect on students’ scores of different methods of administering exams. My subjects were introductory psychology students who were required to participate in a certain number of these experiments for course credit.

       The experiment involved groups of students taking what was purported to be an intelligence test. I had cut and pasted segments of various aptitude and intelligence tests into about a one hour exam. I administered the exam in two different ways. One group was given “hard” instructions and one was given “easy” instructions.

    For the “hard” group, I wore a coat and tie and remained standing during the very formal instructions. I was very stern and unsmiling. I had a stopwatch openly displayed. The students were told that this was an intelligence test divided into a certain number of sections. They were to put their names on the answer sheets. There was a strict time limit for each section. They had to put down their pencils when I said stop, and they were not allowed to go forward or back to other sections. I told them that the results of the test would become a part of their permanent record at the university and could affect their eligibility for acceptance into certain advanced courses. As a kicker, I said, “Since you will want to know how you did on the exam, your individual scores will be posted by your names on the bulletin board in the Student Union.”

    For the “easy” group, I was dressed very casually, and I was seated with my feet propped up on the desk as they came into the classroom.  I smiled and greeted students cordially. The students were instructed in a very relaxed manner that this was just a general test of student abilities much like tests they had taken previously, only these results would be anonymous. They were not to put their names on anything, just indicate male or female. I indicated that, although the test would be roughly timed, the goal was just to see how the average student did on the test. There would be no way of knowing  who took each test so no individual results would be published, nor would results have any effect on them, personally.

    I had hypothesized that the “hard” group test takers would perform better, for they had a real incentive to perform. Indeed, there was no real incentive for “easy” test takers to put any effort at all into the test. In fact, the “hard” test takers did perform slightly better, but the difference was not statistically significant. The only statistically significant result was that the women did better than the men. The reason for this was that Duke at the time was the best coed school in the country. Only one out of every forty-five women who applied to Duke was accepted. One out of nine men who applied was accepted. The women were a much more highly select group, and let’s face it – they were smarter. I remember one girl, in particular. She was a strikingly beautiful blonde “hard” group member who had a nearly perfect score. Who says blondes are dumb?

    The most interesting result of the experiment was that the scores of the “hard” group were more variable. Though the mean scores were similar, the “hard” group bell curve was flatter and extended farther in each direction. The bell curve of the “easy” test takers was tall and narrow. The top scorers of the “hard” group scored higher than the top scorers of the “easy” group, but the poorest scorers of the “hard” group did worse than the poor scorers of the “easy” group. This indicated to me that, while some students were more motivated to do well under tough circumstances, others simply choked up and did poorly.

    I suspect that my “hard” instruction students have nightmares caused by my mean, unyielding performance as the proctor of that exam. If I have such nightmares from time to time, I confess, it is deservedly so. I have it coming!

Originally posted to Skipper Al on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:06 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Maybe, then again... (9+ / 0-)

    ...I was never a graduate student, and I also have had those nightmares. Lately, though, I've had dreams about work, too, since I retired in 2010. YMMV.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:09:40 PM PST

  •  Hubby is a living, walking nightmare. As a retired (17+ / 0-)

    HS Math teacher, he hasn't been in the classroom for several years, yet he sill runs into Bank Tellers, Waitresses and others who were former students.  They all FREEZE and say they can't tally up the bill with Hubby looking on.

  •  I had those dreams after dropping out of college (11+ / 0-)

    They went on for decades and it wasn't until after I went back to complete a degree that they finally went away. I believe the dreams were telling me that I needed to go back and finish what I started.

    I didn't graduate until I was nearly 60 and there was very little return on the investment from a monetary point of view, but at the same time I got a huge amount of personal satisfaction from it.

    My only regret is taking it all too seriously. I might have been better off if I'd settled for a lower GPA, but it was all about proving to myself that I cut still cut it and I did. I managed to have the highest grade point in nearly all of my classes, but it took a toll on me.

    My invisible imaginary friend is the "true" creator

    by Mr Robert on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:45:07 PM PST

  •  When I was a psych major (i.e., "test subject") I (8+ / 0-)

    participated in an experiment where I was supposed to guess  under which cup was the pea (the old "shell game.")

    I entered the room where the grad student was conducting the experiment.  Either he was such an honest person that he could not really dissemble, or else I was enough of an intuitive person that I couldn't be fooled so easily--but anyhow I knew immediately that there was no pea under any of the three cups.

    After 15 minutes of my "guessing" and no pea, the grad student revealed that, indeed, there was nothing under any cup.  He asked me how long I would have kept on "guessing."  

    I replied that I had contracted to participate for 20 minutes and that I would have fulfilled that obligation, whether there was a pea or not.  

    Constructing a good experiment is harder than one might think.

    "Stand your ground" laws promote aggression rather than discretion."

    by Mayfly on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 05:44:52 PM PST

    •  I was a subject myself (5+ / 0-)

      I volunteered to be a test subject in a study at Duke's medical school. Actually they paid me. I had to sit in a booth  hooked up to an EKG and and EEG. There were dozens of wires. I had to perform some simple task. The catch was that they said they were going to administer a severe electric shock to me at some time during the test period. They put a dental guard in my mouth so that I would not break my teeth when the pain hit me. I would have no warning. It would be a stiff shock, but I was not to worry because I was young and healthy. Also, if anything went wrong, I was right there in the Duke Hospital surrounded by doctors. After about an hour they came in and began unhooking me. They said that I had been remarkably calm. I confessed that I never believed that they would actually shock me.

  •  I had test phoia in college (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, corwinabell, joynow, viral, Mayfly

    so my nightmare was with me throughout the day.

    I excelled in classes where the grades were based on papers and class participation- I would break out in cold sweats for the tests in the classes that required them.

    I did well- but I can understand you experiment.  For the tests that were a major part of the final grade, while I still got 90's or above, my anxiety levels were through the roof.

    One class, the Professor gave tests- and she explained that while the scores would effect your final grade, she really uses them to evaluate her teaching skills.  In other words- if a large portion of the class does poorly- she places the blame on herself and re-thinks her teaching techniques.

    On her tests, I did great- but not as great as I did on the anxiety riddles exams.

    Pressure- what would we do without it.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:22:27 PM PST

  •  Can you imagine it if you were the 'hard' teacher (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, corwinabell, RiveroftheWest

    to 100% of the class? This way, at least half of the class won't have nightmares, so don't feel so bad. You might also be the only one that remembers and has nightmares about it. ;-)

    'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

    by janis b on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:50:44 PM PST

  •  I'd always been told I "test well" (4+ / 0-)

    But really, what I always have thought is that instead, I test as well as I am supposed to test for the test. ..ie a test would actually be measuring my real achievement or aptitude. The problem is, many if not MOST students do not test as smart or accomplished as they actually are.

    You were at a very competative school so as it was you only had high achieving bright people in your experiment as it was

    If you had been at a public high school, even a reasonably well funded one in the suburbs, I believe your "hard" test conditions--which are more like what students actually undergo--would have resulted in an even More drawn out curve

    It would have extended far to the left. Because those high achievers in your experiment are as a group much less effected by usual test conditions (are like how I was) than the majority of kids who get anxious by test conditions. To put it another way, your experimental group had already culled off the people who, perhaps equally bright, test more poorly because they wouldn't have been in that school

    I mention it because your experiment was a great one and I don't know if hard and soft test conditions has been studied in public schools. I think knowing that many low and moderate testing"students test low  because of test conditions themselves (even though tests are held as your actually ability to achieve or a measure of what you have actually learned)

    Have they studied test comparative test conditions in schools?
    I love that you got a very steep bell curve.

    •  Similar for me. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, corwinabell, jplanner

      I did well in school--partly because I learned the material, and partly because I have the knack for getting a high % of what I've learned onto the test paper.

      In any given class, I was likely to have friends who knew more than me about the subject, but got a worse grade, because they didn't test well.

      I think this is an area that needs more study. Surely society as a whole could benefit from knowledge people actually have, but aren't recognized as having.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 05:08:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  When you proposed your experiment (3+ / 0-)

    my hypothesis, thinking of standardized testing in high school probably more than your elite group, I instantly thought that the "soft" tested students would have higher scores than the "hard" because I am aware of how many of my high school peers performed much more poorly than their actual aptitude--something like 1/3 of our hs students it seemed to me....of all students not just your elite end of students...chocked to varying degrees under these "hard' testing conditions.

    Then they thought they were stupid. Wish I could show them instead that it was the testing conditions.

  •  The longer I taught the more I shifted (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corwinabell, RiveroftheWest

    from  competitive learning to cooperative learning.

    I was a  behavior disorder specialist in special education. It became clear to me that encouraging children to succeed at all costs at the expense of others is a social disorder.

    Schools that put students in contrived situations of stress are teaching us not to trust the system.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:14:55 AM PST

    •  Well I think that sadly the only way that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corwinabell, RiveroftheWest

      will change is when one student decides to use very nasty and potentially lethal methods to get ahead of the rest of the students.  For example, adding something to the cafeteria food such as visine or perhaps even a little tularemia to make the other kids sick for a test that can't be made up.  In other words, going all Tonya Harding in order to get the highest test score.

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:14:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A psych student asked me to give her (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corwinabell, RiveroftheWest, kurt

    a sample of my handwriting and she would return with a personality profile based on that sample.

    I did as she instructed and she gave me a paragraph that she said was an outline of my personality. She asked me to read it over and say what I thought about it. I did and said that while one or two of the traits were true of me, others were definitely not.

    She listed and went away, but returned later, and said rather sheepishly that everyone had been given the same paragraph no matter what their handwriting was like. The test had been to show how fortune tellers and others can make general statements and gain someone's confidence. I was the only person to question the paragraph.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:24:00 AM PST

  •  I still dream that I'm a 48 yo trying to pass for (4+ / 0-)

    an 8th grader trying to graduate into high school.

    I thinks those kinds of dreams may stem from being a perfectionist procrastinator.

  •  I lived that Top Secret dream... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corwinabell, RiveroftheWest, kurt

    I skipped the pre-req for a programming class and was in way over my head, could not do the assignments, and didn't have the sense to drop it.  During finals week, I ran into another student from my class and asked him "Hey when's our final?"  He looked at me funny and said he had just taken it.

    Let's say I did not do well.  Still, better than being beaten by Nazis.  And I did get a degree.

    I don't know what's been trickling down, but it hasn't been pleasant---N. Pelosi

    by Russycle on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:15:54 PM PST

  •  IQ tests are not idiot-proof. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corwinabell, kurt

    When I was an undergraduate, a Psych. grad student asked me if I would allow him to administer an IQ test.  I agreed, and he gave me the test.
    One of the questions he asked of me was "Who wrote 'Faust'?"
    I answered "Goethe," pronouncing it as "Ger-tuh."
    At the end of the test, I asked the guy if I'd gotten the answer to the question about 'Faust' right.  He looked back at the answer and said, "No."
    I said, "Ok, so who did write 'Faust'."
    He replied, "It was Go-thee."

    "One of the boss' hangers-on sometimes comes to call, at times you least expect. Tryin' to bully you, strongarm you, inspire you with fear--it has the opposite effect."--Bob Dylan, "Floater"

    by oldmaestro on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 09:19:59 PM PST

    •  Goethe? (0+ / 0-)

      Several versions of the Faust story antedate Goethe's by two hundred years, including Christopher Marlowe's shot at the legend. However, that seems to be a general knowledge question rather than something that should be on an intelligence test. Talk about a culturally biased test!

    •  Weird. (0+ / 0-)

      I distinctly recall my dad telling a story with a very similar punchline. I don't recall if it was specifically an IQ test or what, but I know that he's told me basically that exact story before.

      Not trying to imply that this didn't happen to you or anything. Coincidences are many in this world. But that's eerily similar, no?

      Always follow the money.

      by Zaq on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 12:12:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Weird (0+ / 0-)

        Yes, it sounds like a familiar joke. Also, I do not believe trivia questions like that are contained in intelligence tests, which are aimed at determining one's ability to reason clearly. Age appropriate knowledge and understanding must be of a general nature, not specific to some group. Otherwise, who is to say one person's knowledge of Goethe is more indicative of intelligence than another's knowledge of rap artists?

        •  No, that's exactly what happened to me. (0+ / 0-)

          I just googled "iq test question who wrote faust" and there were many, many hits, with many, many people remembering that they'd been asked that question.  Apparently it was in the WAIS IQ test.   I also googled "mispronouncing goethe" and got a lot of hits, discovering along the way that there is a blog on wordpress with the same title.  But in my admittedly quick survey, I didn't find any other accounts of this "familiar joke."

          What's always bothered me about the IQ test experience is that I'll never know what my true IQ was/is.  I mean, the guy told me that my IQ was 189.  Is that good or bad?

          "One of the boss' hangers-on sometimes comes to call, at times you least expect. Tryin' to bully you, strongarm you, inspire you with fear--it has the opposite effect."--Bob Dylan, "Floater"

          by oldmaestro on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:20:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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