Testing

by Laura A

I haven’t been posting lately because:

  • I was in another one of those “Can you please help us understand what credentials an American needs in order to apply to your European university?” flurries and,
  • I was helping Sarie study for her first AP test, in psychology.  That is to say, I was giving her a study partner because it helped with motivation. She took the test in Milan yesterday, and it seemed to go fine.

I’ll just say right off that I am not a huge fan of AP.  It seems to be geared towards vast survey courses that have to be forced down and chewed furiously. Sarie likes to savor (always has), and what with everything else she was doing this school year, she was most definitely not savoring psychology. She was reading and typing as fast as she could, without time to supplement using other material that might have added interest and made connections, such as books by Oliver Sacks or Nicholas Carr.

But: Most European schools want to see APs to approximate the last, fifth year of European high school. And, since she had to take them, she did. And perhaps, looking back (as we finally can), taking an AP course got her through the material and showed her that she could do it.  Hopefully the class was confidence-building, and next time she’ll know better how to pace herself.

While I was waiting for Sarie to come out of the exam, I read from Sternberg and Lubart’s Defying the Crowd, a creativity study co-authored by a former Yale professor and President of the American Psychological Association.  I had grabbed the book off the shelf as we left Torino because I came across his triarchic theory of intelligence in Barron’s Guide to AP Psychology.  It discusses the investment theory of creativity, that is, the importance of timing for creative ideas, and what makes some more valuable than others.  But it also talks about how undervalued creativity can be generally, given the premium we put on analytical skills. Sometimes a creative and even analytically intelligent person simply doesn’t test well. Sternberg himself did so poorly on his introductory psychology course that he actually changed majors for a while. Now people have to learn who he is when they take the course he did poorly in!

***

To take the AP exam, we had to go to Milan and stay in an AirBnB apartment the night before.  We stayed in a spare bedroom in a young couple’s apartment.  I thought that might be a little risky considering the reason we were there, but it turned out fine.

As it turns out, Sarie was the only person taking this particular test. She was met by a retired British teacher who was dressed as if for a birding expedition, with slightly long grey hair and a khaki vest. I knew when we met him that Sarie would be fine. The school was bright and clean, and I sat in a glass lobby for three hours while the test was going on. The infirmary seemed quite popular.

Sarie and I independently became nostalgic on the Milan subway, which is dimly-lit, slightly dirty, multicultural, and encourages the trancelike stare that New York City subway riders know well.  Torino’s subway is so small and clean that it’s almost cute.

On the trip back to the railway station, a Filipino mother sat across from us, weary-looking in ripped jeans, a T-shirt and cheap rhinestone flip-flips, her brows creased in concentration and a finger in her free ear, talking loudly into a cellphone in Spanish.  It was noisy on the train, so she likely shouted because she was having trouble hearing.  In the next seat, her toddler son sat ignored and exploring. First he swung his legs out like windshield wipers over the vast expanse of seat afforded him, gently tapping the legs of the teenage boy next to him.  The older boy was staring straight ahead, so like many impassive teens I’ve seen on New York subways: Various ear studs, tattoos (including the Nike basketball logo), T-shirt with meaningless American logo, a white rosary, large dark sunglasses, and a mohawk variation that made all the top part of his hair stand on end.

After a while the toddler stood up, swaying and balancing gingerly with his hands on the back of the seat while facing forward. He had soft dark hair and his peachy face looked as fresh as his mother’s did worn. I glanced down for a minute, and looked up again just in time to see the toddler’s hand finish a nice swipe across the top of his neighbor’s mohawk. The little boy grinned, pleased with his finding, and took another swipe. Then he patted the teenage boy on the shoulder. The other boy turned and smiled genuinely, not annoyed at all.  Swipe, pat, grin, smile. The mom finished her phone call and took the boy into her lap. At the next stop, a very large college student, talking loudly with two girls and holding a purse perched primly on his knees, wedged himself into the seat between the older boy and the toddler. The teen boy now looked not only impassive, but positively shrunken. The woman and the little boy got off the train when we did. The toddler was already staring inquisitively at a stroller in the turnstile line.

If only we could learn by curiosity forever.

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