News

Tests and Measurements

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | March 20, 2010

"When your mother is mad and asks 'Do I look stupid?' it's best not to answer her."
Meghan, age 13

Whether you are a student or a teacher, everyone knows that exams are a normal part of the educational experience. Most of us have at least one experience with tests and measurements we would like to forget. I certainly have mine. 

I spent my first six years in two different one room schoolhouses just outside Lebanon, PA. I will never forget the oral reading exercise when I was in fourth grade. There were about 25 children in the school and about eight of us were my class. We were all standing in front of everyone and each of us one by one was asked to read a short paragraph out loud. 

My turn came and I remember coming across the word "determined." I will never forget my pronunciation: "deter-MIND-ed." The teacher asked me to say it again and I repeated it just as I had read it. Since then I have often smiled at that simple mistake as a child but I have often thought about how that moment stays in my mind even to this day. 

The two most difficult exams I ever took were a part of my doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. The first one came after I finished all of my coursework and I met with my committee. I will never forget walking in the room and there on two long tables were two boxes of tissues. We were just gathering together but to make a light comment I simply said, "I hope those won't be needed" and not one person made a comment. The next two hours were the most challenging of my entire academic experience. 

The other difficult exam was defending my doctoral dissertation. I had been on the entire program for nearly eight years while simultaneously being a parent and husband and fulltime employee. My coursework was done. My research was done. I had written 425 pages with more edits than I care to remember. And it all came down to the oral defense. Eight years of trying to find a parking space on that huge 50,000 plus university campus and trudging through piles of snow and carrying books in and out of the library and taking classes and writing each page and footnote while sitting there in my office at home. 

Eight years of work was riding on that oral defense. I will always remember hearing the words, "Congratulations, Dr. Meyer." That moment still makes me smile. 

I also remember how difficult it was to give exams to my two sons when I was their professor in college. How often I wanted to call them up the night before to reduce their anxiety by giving them the answers. I can still see Kevin's face as he struggled with that exam about four rows back in that Saturday morning class. 

Over the years educators encounter all kinds of answers on the exams they give. Here are a few that I trust will make you smile as much as they have me. 

What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common? Unusual names. 

Name six animals which live specifically in the Arctic. Two polar bears and Three, I mean four seals. 

Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed? At the bottom. 

What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register? Mariah Carey 

Joanna works in an office. Her computer is a stand-alone system. What is a stand-alone computer system? It doesn't come with a chair. 

What is a vibration? There are good vibrations and bad vibrations. Good vibrations were discovered in the 1960's. 

Steve is driving his car. He is travelling at 60 feet/second and the speed limit is 40 mph. Is Steve speeding? He could find out by checking his speedometer. 

Exams. They really can make you laugh or cry. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu