Post #3: Testing, one two splat
On the day I turned 60 I took a memory test. I was about to learn a new language and wanted to know if my brain would cooperate.
The last time I had taken a standardized test, I was 21. It was the GMAT, the test required for admission into MBA programs. Cornell University liked my score enough that they offered me a spot, even though I hadn’t applied.
This time I would get tested by the Toronto Memory Program, a clinic that specializes in researching dementia and treating patients with wobbly memories. In other words, people nothing at all like me.
The backwards-sevens test was a cinch. So was the psychomotor test, which had me tracing lines between letters and numbers as fast as my muscles would allow. I was nailing this thing! Next, I had to list all the zoo animals I could think of in 60 seconds. I hadn’t been to a zoo since my kids were in diapers, but how hard could this be? The first few animals rolled easily off my tongue: lion, tiger, cheetah, polar bear… then a little imp flipped a switch in my brain and all I could picture were farm animals: chickens, turkeys, sheep. What the hell was going on?
I moved on to the cognigram, a computer-based test of visual memory and reaction time. Each time a playing card appeared on the screen, I was to press “yes” if I remembered seeing the card before and “no” if I didn’t. Every time I got a wrong answer, the computer beeped. I got a lot of beeps.
Drumroll, tally, score: “normal range, about one standard deviation above average for my age.” How could this happen? I’d scored 98th percentile on the GMAT! I’d gone to graduate school at Harvard! (I quit after a semester, but still.) All my life I’d woven a story about myself, a story that flowed from the premise that I had a rather special brain.
Like all people who don’t ace a test, I started in on the excuses. I was nervous. The test didn’t assess higher-level thinking. It was biased toward visual memory. If they had tested my auditory recall, I would have knocked it out of the park. Yeah, whatever.
Looks like I’m no longer a member of the special-brain club, just another schmo trying to learn a language. Whatever I accomplish will be through hard work, not turbo-charged synapses. If nothing else, I’ll get an A for effort.