Monday, January 16, 2012

Test Observations

I took the test for the government job Saturday. The test took place at a San Diego elementary school, at 1pm.

I left the house early, so I would not have to rush. As I got closer to the test site, I found myself in a dumpy-to-bad neighborhood, and I worried my car would be broken into. I had to push that thought aside, though, because I'd driven about an hour to take the test, and I wasn't going to give up just because of the neighborhood. 

When I arrived at the test site, about two dozen people were milling around, waiting to test. It was only 12:30, so I was about half an hour early. I decided to use the facilities, and there was about a ten minute wait. While I languished in line, more testers turned up, rounding the numbers out to about sixty. I took my turn in the bathroom (there was only one stall!), then got in the official waiting-to-test line. As soon as I got in that line, another line formed to the right, then another after that. I tried to count how many people were lined up, but I couldn't see everyone, so I gave up, hoping to re-count once we were seated inside.

While we waited, our i.d.s were checked, along with our notices to appear for testing. I observed the crowd as I waited. About two thirds of the people were at least 15 years younger than I am. There were slightly more women than men. Most people were in jeans. Some were in tracksuits. At least two women had on over-the-knee boots. One woman had a Balenciaga bag. The men were mostly clad in jeans and hoodies. There were many different demographic groups represented. 

At about 1:05, after the third line firmed up, we were herded into a school building. The room we entered turned out to be the school gym/lunchroom/auditorium, and was populated with five very long tables, which could seat 50-75 children each side. The test proctors instructed us to spread out and leave space between us. After everyone had filed in and found a seat, each table had approximately 20-30 adults on each side.

Announcements admonishing us not to cheat, talk, or peek were made. They told us we'd have two hours and 15 minutes to complete the test, adding that anyone who was still testing when time was called would have to stop, regardless of how many questions they had left to answer. We got a few instructions on using the ScanTron sheets, then we were told to start the test. By this time, it was 1:15pm

Being out of practice for this kind of thing, I moved slowly through the first five questions, then I began to pick up speed. As I absorbed the tone and nature of the questions (not nearly as tough as I expected them to be), I began to feel a bit of confidence. I quickly realized the test standard was mediocre. Some of the questions were so obvious I nearly slapped my forehead. I had to guess at only four questions, and not all of them were math questions, the ones I feared the most. (Math was my worst subject, but we were allowed to use calculators, so I did okay on that section, apart from one question about decimal places that I'm sure I answered incorrectly.)

I finished my test within about an hours' time. I wasn't rushing. I was really surprised about this. Almost everyone was still seated. I estimate that about four people finished before me, including the woman I spoke to while waiting in line (see below). I felt funny walking the length of the room with so many people still testing. I felt like I had a red flag on my head. But walk the length of it I did, and finally reaching the proctors' table. I handed in my test papers, and left. 

It was a unique experience, getting a view of my level of intelligence in this context. I was curious about how people felt about the test, but there was no way to ask anyone what they thought. The woman I'd been in line next to was long gone, so there was no chance of a conversation with her. 

I have new perspective, too, after seeing a cross-section of my competition for this job. I've rarely caught a glimpse of those applying for the jobs I am trying for. I think I prefer not knowing who my competition is. 

 The woman in front of me in line said that there were more than 1,000 applicants for the position 
 I asked her how long she'd been looking for work: "14 months" she answered
 I estimate that there were between 130–150 people testing during this administration of the test 
• There were at least four administrations of the test 
• So after doing some cipherin' and some guzintahs, that would mean that approximately 520–600 people testing
• Thus, I draw the conclusion that only half the people who applied were culled
• The woman in front of me in line said the top scorers would be tossed out of the viable applicants pool
• After the test results are tabulated, "some" applicants will be contacted for interviews
• They allotted 2.25 hours, I finished in 64 minutes. There were 110 questions. I guessed at four
• I was about the fifth person to finish

What do we think my chances are?


  1. Holy crow. What a craziness. I don't know your odds. Something tells me you'll be in the top of the applicants pool. Not that I'm trying to be negative. I think this whole thing is insane, btw.

  2. Oh my gosh. What a surreal experience. Why on EARTH would they throw out the TOP scorers? That makes no sense at all to me.