The Test of a Lifetime: “Testing Testing 1, 2, 3” review

I’ll tell you one thing: I love being a student.

I constantly learn new things, I’m staying relatively productive, I get out of the house, and I have a set schedule that I can’t blow off.

Now, that may not seem like a fun time, but it’s way better than being unemployed while having nothing to do.

Plus, I’m earning a diploma, to begin a lucrative career in a field I love. Assuming I can actually find a job this time.

But if there’s one thing that annoys the hell out of me: it’s tests. I don’t mind taking tests, per say. I’m just annoyed at how they’re done, and what people think of them.

There’s a common problem in western education known as ‘teaching to the test.’ We’ve all heard of this. Where the entire education system isn’t designed for the purposes of teaching students material they’re interested in, in a fun and practical way. It’s all about getting them to pass tests. In fact, you may have entire lessons devoted to teaching students all about test-taking strategies, as if it’s a goddamn video game!

The test should fit the material, the material should not fit the test. Now, to a certain extent, I do believe in a consistent and universal curriculum. In most of the US, for instance, the public school curriculums are designed at a local level. And this basically means that the depth, breadth, and by extension quality of a child’s education may vary from town to town. And don’t even get me started on the backward and ignorant rednecks trying to bring religion into biology classrooms. Just thinking about that makes me cry. I weep for those children’s futures.

But if you have a province-wide curriculum, like we do in Ontario, how do you ensure it’s being followed? Well, primarily, by trusting the teachers and administrators. And not by giving them standardized tests that examine whether or not a student can read. Let’s be honest, if someone has made it to grade 10, I’m pretty sure they’re literate. Someone would’ve spotted it otherwise.

Ideally, education should prepare a student for the adult world. It should give them a set of skills that’ll help them be informed citizens, discerning consumers, responsible financial managers, and skilled workers. In what circumstance does knowing how to fill out a damn Scantron form help in any area? Are there professional test-takers out there?

Not that tests shouldn’t be done. I think it’s important to check whether or not someone knows what they should know. But the tests should be relevant to the material. In IT, we have this down. Most of my exams this year have been practical exams, where all we have to do is design a program, or website, just like any other assignment we’ve had, only with a 2 hour time limit, and we’re not allowed to talk to anyone. And yes, we were allowed to look at our old assignments, and Google, because that’s exactly what we’d have access to in the workplace as well. Memorizing every possible function and command isn’t really necessary, so why should we have to do it?

But then there’s written theory tests, where you have to work entirely off memory. And to a certain extent, one should have basic conversational knowledge, and be able to discuss the various concepts in a casual setting, and you can’t just pull out a reference book in the middle of a conversation. But when exactly are the names of every single SQL data type going to be necessary to bring up in conversation.

I just don’t think it’s necessary. Just like knowing the history of an organization before joining that organization. It’s not necessary, nor should it be mandatory.

Which brings me to the realm of Equestria, where it is mandatory for Rainbow Dash to memorize the history of the Wonderbolts to join the Wonderbolts Reserve, which is now a thing!

Let’s start with the cold open, where Rainbow Dash flies past, at 270 km/h, nine millimetres from Twilight’s face, which should bring up several health and safety concerns. But Twilight is not concerned with that, nor is she concerned with the pages that don’t appear to be properly bound within her book. Instead, she’s more concerned with the fact that Rainbow Dash is not studying for her ‘History of the Wonderbolts’ test. So she decides to confront the pegasus, by sneaking up on her. But because she keeps talking to herself, she ends up blowing her own cover.

Seriously Twilight, stop talking to yourself. Who do you think you are? Me!?

She can’t even read quietly!

And on a related note. Yes Twilight, Rainbow will be quite surprised to see you giving her a good bollocking. Since it’s not like that kind of thing is completely in character for you.

By the way, in case you couldn’t tell, that was sarcasm.

But back on topic, Rainbow’s not worried about the exam. Which makes sense, I mean she probably already knows all the material. And I have a very specific philosophy on tests: You should never have to study for one. Ideally a test would examine all the information you’ve retained. If you have to study for a test, you’ve retained nothing. And ideally you should retain it for more than a few hours. You shouldn’t have to study, because you should just know the material. It should be in your brain, and available at any time. The only exception to this is if you don’t know the material, but want to pass the test anyway. In which case, go for it, study your brain to death the night before. But it kind of undermines the purpose of the test.

So one can presume Rainbow Dash is so relaxed because she already knows she knows the material.

Well, no. And even after Twilight spends a quarter of the episode trying to teach her, she retains exactly zero pieces of information about the Wonderbolts. So, assuming Twilight’s study methods didn’t purge the knowledge from her mind, she knew nothing, which makes me wonder why she was so aloof. Why wasn’t she the least bit concerned? She knew nothing about the history of the Wonderbolts, and passing the test was required for her to join the Wonderbolts Reserve.

But from her reaction, one can assume she didn’t know she didn’t know. How could she not know she didn’t know something!? From what I can tell, there was no indication she studied any of it at any point earlier, so the information didn’t just leave her head. It just begs more questions!

But now, Rainbow is worried, since she finally realizes that if she took the test that day, she’d fail it. And it’s all Twilight’s fault!

At least, that’s what Rainbow thinks. After all, none of Twilight’s techniques worked! Yeah, primarily because Rainbow wasn’t even trying to pay attention!

Spike, don’t encourage her.

But Twilight’s techniques were based on what worked for her. And the truth is, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work for everyone.

First they tried reading and highlighting. And I really have to assume Twilight has some anti-highlighting spell, since they’re using a library book. But that’s the least of their issues.

The purpose of highlighting is to separate the important parts of a text, from the unimportant parts, as Twilight explains. However, that’s only useful for future review, isn’t it? Regardless, one has to determine what’s important, and what’s unimportant, first; and Rainbow, obviously, has a hard time with that. And I don’t blame her! I run into the same problem! How exactly can you tell what’s important? I mean really, isn’t it all important? And if it’s unimportant, what’s it doing in the book?

So Twilight then tries your standard history lecture, which fails because Rainbow just can’t pay attention. But that’s mainly because Twilight has no idea how to engage an audience, and spends the entire lecture focused on her chalkboard.

Turn around!

And finally, she tries flash cards which, as far as I know, are only useful for self-tests and revision.

So none of it works. And because of this, Rainbow decides to take her frustrations out on Twilight. Then Fluttershy arrives to break up their fight, and offer her own solution.

A play performed by pets. It works as well as can be expected; like a silent film with no title cards, completely incomprehensible.

Then, àpropos of nothing, Pinkie arrives, and has her own approach: An educational rap from the 90s… for some reason.

You know, I don’t really like rap, and yes, I can explain why. Because it’s completely incomprehensible! Most of the time, rappers tend to rush through, and slur their words together. I’m sure there are reasons for it, like the need to keep a fast-paced rhythm. But it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t understand a damn word they’re saying! And Pinkie’s rap is no different.

Then Rarity shows up, possibly summoned by Princess Luna-cat.

Her plan is to show Rainbow Dash all the historical Wonderbolts outfits, and has the others model them.

Two problems with this: It doesn’t, in any way, appeal to Rainbow Dash’s interests; and it’s completely irrelevant.

So given that everyone failed to teach Rainbow anything, it’s all up to Applejack, who has… nothing. Which makes sense, she’s Applejack. Her knowledge-base is more practical in nature, and classical education isn’t something she ever bothered with.

So with no working learning strategy available to them, Rainbow Dash just flies off in defeat and tears. Though honestly, they should’ve gone back to Twilight’s lecture; because with the fear of Celestia in her, Rainbow might actually be able to focus this time.

But no one suggests that. Instead, Rainbow just mopes. Now, Twilight does catch up with her, and try to cheer her up; but all her attempts fail, since Rainbow is convinced she’s too stupid to learn. Then, out of nowhere, she pushes her friend out-of-the-way of a slow-moving helicopter, which is likely to end up on toy shelves very soon.

Twilight’s grateful for the save. But given that it wasn’t moving at any sort of speed, I don’t think it was much of a save. Once it got close enough to enter Twilight’s perif, I’m sure she would’ve gently tilted herself out of the way. But how did Rainbow even see it? Twilight wonders. Well, that’s because Rainbow is always concerned for everyone’s safety.

…Really?

Well, anyway, she explains that as she flies, she constantly keeps her eyes open for any sign of danger, and it’s all handled by her subconscious. She notices every detail when she’s flying.

So, with a bit of planning, Twilight’s able to come up with a new solution: As she and Rainbow Dash fly over Ponyville, her friends, and several of the town’s residents, act out the history of the Wonderbolts in precise detail, which she absorbs like a sponge.

The episode ends with Rainbow Dash getting a perfect score on her exam.

Burn the witch! –I mean, that was fun.

Overall, there wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about this episode, and quite a few problems. There were several solutions that no one even thought to try. Such as a play with dialogue, or as they’re commonly known: Talkies. They could’ve even retried any of Twilight’s approaches, once Rainbow realized how important everything was, and began to focus. And Pinkie could’ve tried a different musical genre… like some type of power ballad.

And there’s very little rationale for even having a history test be a prerequisite to join a flying squadron. Twilight explains that Rainbow needs to know Wonderbolts history so she could properly represent them. But even that doesn’t make much sense. Memorizing the Wonderbolt’s charter, or their code of ethics, would make sense, but I don’t understand how their history would be relevant.

Don’t get me wrong, knowing history is important. As they say: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. And history is also essential for understanding the various socio-economic problems we currently face. But that doesn’t quite explain why knowing Wonderbolt history is a prerequisite to joining them. I mean, I’d understand if it was part of their training, after they officially joined. But this doesn’t make much sense.

Is she going to be a Wonderbolts tour guide? What is this?

But overall, the episode wasn’t what I’d call, ‘terrible.’ Since it all came together relatively well. It also had a fantastic lesson about varied learning styles. Though I have to say, the Rainbow-learns-by-flying thing was a bit contrived. So, I’d rank this episode as mediocre. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible, and is only noteworthy for giving us a detailed history of the Wonderbolt’s founding… which I’ve already forgotten.

Well, that’s a bad sign.

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