I teach a tenth grade class at a Jewish high school, all of the students in which have been in school for at least ten years now, and every single year they are shocked when I tell them this: there are going to be tests. Like they haven’t had tests in the past ten years.

Why always #2 pencils? Why hasn’t marking machine technology advanced by now?

“There are going to be tests?” they ask, falling out of their seats. “Wait, we’re supposed to be learning the things that you’re teaching?”

The truth is that the students probably do know about tests, but they’re just hoping there won’t be any, because tests are stressful. You have to cram all this information into your head when you weren’t even paying attention when the teacher taught it the first time, and any time you want to do anything fun that week, your parents ask, “Don’t you have a test coming up?” all so that when the teacher gives out the test paper your mind can suddenly go blank, and even though you’ve been taught numerous times IN SCHOOL about helping others and working as a team, all of a sudden when you ask someone else for an answer, it’s cheating.

Hey, if you’d LET me to ask other people for answers, then it wouldn’t be cheating.

But what are you supposed to do? Study? No matter how much you study, you always feel like you didn’t study enough. How much is enough? How much is too much? The teacher thinks he’s doing you this big favor by telling you about the test two weeks before he gives it, but who on earth studies for a test two weeks in advance? Wouldn’t you have to study again right before the test? Why put off to tomorrow something you can do next week?

So tests are stressful, and we teachers give you tests primarily because we hate you. Or maybe because we want to see if we’re teaching you anything, and if we’re not, then maybe force you to learn it on your own, on the last day of the term, in a mad panic.

Oh, so it’s really for the teacher to see if we’re learning something. It’s not for us at all.

My students also want to know, every time, what kind of test it’s going to be. Most kids prefer either:

  1. Multiple choice, because the answers are all right there. You just have to know where to look.

  2. True or False tests, because not only do you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but usually, the answer is going to be “true”, because the teacher wrote the test, and he knows most of the answers. He’d have to make a conscious decision if he was going to stick false information into the question.

  3. Matching is actually the best kind of test. You just draw a big spider-web in the middle of the page and the teacher can sort out which line you meant to go where.

But tests aren’t really a picnic for us teachers either. You have to take one test – we have to grade all of them, and make them up in the first place, and decipher all the spider webs in everyone’s matching section. And we also have to field questions every single day: “Is this going to be on the test?”

Yes. I said, “Today is test review day.” Everything I say today is going to be on the test.

And anyway, in my experience, if I admit on a given day that “No, this won’t be on the test,” not a single person will be listening. Even the good guys will just decide to do homework for the other classes. And if no one’s listening, I specifically WANT to put it on the test, to teach them to listen.

“But why do we have to know this if it isn’t going to be on the test?”

Because you don’t come to school just to learn how to pass the tests that are also given in school.

Well, except for the standardized tests that are administered by the government. The government is always giving standardized tests, so they can see how far we are behind other countries, such as Uzbekistan, so they can figure out which kids need to be caught up so they can get higher scores on the next standardized test.

The good news is that at least those tests are multiple choice. But first the instructor has to give you a whole shpiel at the beginning, every single time, about how to fill in the multiple choice circles, although arguably, if you don’t know how to color in circles, chances are you’re going to bomb the test. They also go into what you should do if you’ve accidentally filled in the wrong one, unless you want the marking machine to explode.

And of course you always have to bring in #2 pencils, even if you somehow know where you can possibly buy other numbers of pencil. (Uzbekistan?) Why always #2 pencils? Why hasn’t marking machine technology advanced by now? But while we’re all fretting about what kind of pencil we need to use, and how each student has to bring in at least 3 of them – like the moment the test starts everyone’s pencil points are just going to start snapping off – and dealing with how to fix a circle that you colored in by accident (even though the entire point of using a pencil is that it has an eraser), all the other countries are already finished their tests.

Which brings me to today’s good news, if you’re a student: If you live in New York City they’re passing legislation that will ban 50 words and topics from all standardized tests. I’ve seen the list, and from what I can tell, they fall into four basic categories: (Bear in mind that I am not making up a single thing on this list. I feel like I have to mention this.)

I. Items that might offend people, such as:

  • Politics
  • Group dancing
  • Religious holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Hunting

II. Items that might give kids bad ideas

  • Gambling
  • Alcohol
  • Slavery
  • Running away
  • Junk food

III. Items that might introduce unpleasant memories that will distract students during the test:

  • Poverty
  • Job loss
  • Creatures from outer space
  • Crime
  • Vermin, such as rats and roaches
  • Slavery
  • Terrorism
  • War
  • Hunting

IV. Items that might evoke distracting feelings of jealousy in kids that don’t have them:

  • Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
  • Homes that have swimming pools
  • Words that suggest wealth
  • Birthdays
  • Alcohol
  • Religious holidays

So in other words, you can’t mention sad things, but you also can’t mention happy things.

The point of these items, according to officials, is that “These words can evoke unpleasant emotions in some students.”

Unpleasant emotions? You mean like taking a test in the first place?

My question is that if you can’t mention any of these things, what exactly is supposed to be on the social studies test?

But the point is that with all these words being cut, not only will tests be shorter, they’ll also be easier. Like for instance, if they can’t ask about junk food, all the math questions will have to be about apples. But not too many apples, because that would be a luxury. On the other hand, for all we know, the test writers will just take the controversial words out of the tests and leave blanks, so that they’re impossible to answer:

Essay Question: In 300 words or more, explain how you feel about _____, how it was affected by ____, and particularly, how it contributed to the _______. (35 points)

That will definitely pull us ahead of Uzbekistan.