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Eureka: Learning styles and testing
by Jay Gutman
2017-12-04 09:12:49
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The Korean equivalent of the Scholastic Aptitude Test date is fast approaching. Each year, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors answer a series of multiple choice questions relating to historical date memorization, correct answers to math problems, correct answers to reading comprehension, and in English correct answers to reading and listening comprehension.

tests01_400China's version is held at the beginning of June and is the same format as the Korean test, a one-size-fits-all test which determines the prestige (or not) of the type of university you will be entering. Doesn't matter if you speak 9, 10, 15 languages, can code in as many languages, have a music repertoire of 10,000 songs you can play on the piano or offer solutions to century-old math or physics problems. You must graduate from university, and you will be judged exclusively on whether you graduated from a top university or not. In China as in South Korea, your university entrance examination scores determine what university you will enter.

What I'm trying to argue is in any given society, you have many different personality types. Let's say there are three main personality types. You have people who are emotional, and who answer to the troubles of life with emotions. Then you have those who are factual, and who answer to the troubles of life with facts. Then you have those who are narrative, who answer to the troubles of life with storytelling.


Suppose you're the emotional type and you have to take the American SAT, the Korean SAT or the Chinese SAT, or any other standardized test. You don't remember the answer to a question, but you have it on the tip of your tongue. Your emotions start bubbling, you get angry, chemicals start invading your brain, game set. See you at the next examination.


Now suppose you're the narrative type, and you like to solve life's problems with stories. You tell a story to identify problems and tell a story to solve them. The problem is you're not always very good at accurately remembering the meaning of every single word you encounter. Or every single date you encounter. Or every single formula you encounter. Or as in China or South Korea, in the high school classroom you're told to keep your stories to yourself. Standardized examinations demand fast-paced answers to questions, and if you're the narrative type, well, too slow. See you at the next examination. 


The narrative behind standardized testing that a lot of people have is that it creates a fair society where everyone has an equal chance to sit at an exam that determines the rest of their university, and often professional lives. Well, it doesn't. Those born with factual type personalities are privileged, and personality types have as much to do with genes as they have to do with personality.


Imagine the narrative type solving problems through stories. Or the emotional type needing to use his or her emotions to solve problems and answer questions. They are really those who are left behind.


How do you solve the problem? You probably need standardized examinations to have a little bit more temperature variation in them. Right now what they are testing is the ability to remember raw facts. You probably want examinations to have sections where emotions are used and sections where storytelling is used. Now that would be a fair university entrance examination.


I've said in the past that current university entrance examinations measure intelligence almost as randomly as measuring the size of the chins of test takers or perhaps the size of their necks. Few perfect score achievers on those tests have gone on to become rocket scientists. Most studies have shown that there is almost no correlation between test taking and university test taking, much less success in further life.


Now big companies including South Korean giant Samsung are using similar tests in their hiring procedures. That's a great way to hire factual personality types and to keep out emotional or narrative personality types. But do remember that a lot of your clients will be emotional or narrative types, and in the long run, perhaps those personality types won't relate to your product or story.

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