DEAR ENGLISH EXAMS: MY OPINIONS ARE NEITHER CORRECT, NOR INCORRECT, THEY JUST ARE

Oh, English class. Do you remember the good old days in school where you were required to take English. Because speaking it all day everyday was not good enough, I suppose. Grammar, papers, speeches, research, reading, exams, writing – English had it all and not in a good way. On a scale of 1 to snow day, English would receive a negative 3 from me. Is that too harsh? No. Not even close. 

It’s one thing to teach English, but it’s another to have to interpret it and be told your opinion is incorrect. Which is why I like math. There is one right answer and only one right answer. There may be multiple ways to get to that answer, but eventually you either end up there or you don’t get it right. Same with science. You either blow up your beaker in chemistry class or make a cleaning solution. One side or the other, no gray middle ground where your feelings and perception of a written work get torn to shreds.

As a language, English has to be one of the hardest ones to learn. We do weird things with it like change the meaning of a word depending on which state you live in. Or make contractions out of anything so that we can be lazy even in our communication. Then there’s the whole proper English versus social English and in most other languages those run almost parallel to each other. And yet with English, you might as well be learning a brand new language. On top of all the fun intricacies of the language, as the gracious Americans we are, we expect all other countries to communicate with us in English. So we don’t have to learn their language. It’s a hypocritical class to be “required” in school is what I’m saying.

Tiny rant over … let’s get to the root of this post. English exams. I’m not a fan of writing papers or having to research things, but actually research them and not just go down the Wiki train. And I don’t care to make speeches or read the mandatory books from when the dinosaurs were still living. All those things aside, though, and the English exams have to be the most ridiculous things ever invented for a teaching curriculum. Out of all the things we have to do, taking an exam and subjecting our opinions to a grading scale is borderline asinine.

If someone were to ask you to read this post and then answer some questions on how it spoke to you, you’d probably be thinking of open ended answers. Preferably on the very short side. But no. Not in English class! Read a poem, they said. Answer some multiple choice questions, they said. It’s based on your opinion, they said. What they don’t say is that there is a correct answer. Meaning there is also an incorrect answer. Which is strange. Since an opinion is not necessarily based on facts, or knowledge. And yet we still have these English exams.

Aren’t multiple choice answers the worst? Yes, in certain contexts. English clearly being one of those. The thing that really makes my skin crawl is when the question is phrased to ask what I think the author meant with their words. I am not a mind reader. I don’t know anyone who is. They used this here instead of there. What difference does it make? It’s a four letter word. I usually have other four letter words I’d like to use during these exams. If they wrote about a dandelion in the middle of a field, why would I think that was a metaphor for a sad girl? Why not just say the sad girl. 

Maybe poets and authors invented mind games. It was never a relationship exclusive taunt. It started with innocent words. They say one thing, but mean something completely different and you have to find where those two arbitrary things meet. Without knowing what one of those things is. How fun! Like an escape room, except your grade and therefore your degree and therefore your future career all depend on it. No pressure at all. Just go back in time, hundreds of years, to get into the headspace of a depressed poet. My guess: they probably had zero intentions with most of what we analyze today. Alcohol could have been involved. Drugs could have been involved. What are we really promoting with these exams?

Alright, jumping off my pedestal for now. If you know someone who would enjoy this post and want to share it with them, that would be awesome. Sharing is caring, after all. Don’t forget to subscribe to get these in your inbox twice weekly and follow TRP on Twitter for frequent musings. Thanks for reading!


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