by Monica A. Ross, LPC
This past semester I’ve taken a break from coursework. One of the major reasons for taking this break has been that I’ve been trying to catch up to the exorbitant costs of private school tuition. In fact, recently I even looked into alternative doctoral programs. And in so doing, I had to study for and take the dreaded graduate record exam or GRE.
The GRE is an exam that many prospective students have to take in order to gain acceptance into graduate school. There’s much debate over the importance of using the GRE as part of admissions standards. The first portion of the test is an analytical writing section where test takers argue a point or discuss an issue.
As I was writing my essay, I thought of a good essay prompt myself “Some consider the GRE to be an antiquated form of measurement of students’ abilities with some schools dismissing its use altogether. Should the GRE be considered as part of admissions practices?”
In studying for this exam I came face to face with one of my fears. That in turn put me in better touch with what some of the individuals who come in to see me also face; especially with something like standardized test taking in this city crawling with students.
We as therapists are not just sitting here watching life happen to the individuals we work with we’re also living it ourselves and therefore dealing with some of the same issues. That includes facing our own fears. Life is participatory.
Here’s something that could be beneficial for us all that I drew recently from this test-taking experience. It’s part of the reason why people get anxiety from being measured in any way. That measurement whatever it is—be it weight, height, volume, IQ points, quantitative or verbal scores, unmeeting/meeting/or exceeding metrics if we’re talking about performance reviews for work. . .none of that, not any of it, has to do anything with our inherent worth and value.
And yet so many of us get caught up in the external world of measurements. Measurement has its place. But sometimes we measure or calculate in order to achieve exactness and then we argue over the exactness of our exactness or the ability to correctly calculate for correctness. It’s an endless loop. There is value in measurement--but separately, not as part of how we determine our worth.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the fact that I made it through my master’s degree program with high scores. It was a way of holding myself accountable to a standard that I had set for myself. I’m proud of every achievement I’ve attained that had aspects of measurement involved—achieving what for me feels like a healthy weight is another example of that.
In fact, I needed the scores to pass the tests that got me here today—with my driver’s license in hand, my license to practice therapy, the scores I needed to win awards and competitions. I could even be grateful for the measurements that were required to get me the contact lens prescription to see clearly not only to be able to do all of these things but to type these words on this page.
But are some of these things we’re wanting to measure truly measureable and in our measuring how can we say that we’re achieving exactness when there are so many mitigating circumstances? Yes, take fine measurements to get me an accurate eyeglass prescription or to calculate the measurements you’ll need to do lasik if I go that route. Get as precise as you can get. Use fine measurements when adjusting the chlorine in pools by all means.
But as the famous quote goes should we be evaluating fish for their ability to climb?
Reliability and validity are important components of research and in designing instruments of measurement. I remember sitting in a research class in my master’s degree program and pouring through journal article after journal article that claimed to capture what it did not. These were examples of bad research. We were honing our skills when developing our own research methods.
There is a lot of bad research out there. Given the methods that we have to measure and create evidence-based practices scientists do their best with it. And actually, I can think of so many other places where being as precise as we can in our research does serve a greater purpose.
I hope that when I get on the bridge this morning for my daily commute the architects who designed it were using measurements that were precise and I trust when given medication to treat the cold or flu that precision is used there too.
Reliability is how consistently over time, over researchers, and across items what is being tested performs in the same way. Validity refers to the way in which the design and methods used to go about measuring the expected results actually represent what they say they are representing. If research is both reliable and valid we say then that the tool is evidence-based or based on solid and sound research.
We can extend the metaphor to people. When something or someone is non reliable or incongruent about their claims it makes it hard to make decisions based off the information coming from the source. We begin to question an individual’s honesty and trustworthiness or that the source of the information is actually genuine and authentic.
Without that sense of honesty it’s difficult to achieve integrity—in test-taking and in life. And what is integrity but integration, balance. It’s the feeling of being whole and complete which in part comes from consistency and being true to your word. This leads to authenticity and alignment–where one’s values reflect one’s deeds.
Sometimes this is tricky as we go out into the world to experiment with where our values lie or as we experiment with developing methods of measurement in other ways like developing tests.
We make mistakes not only as individuals but in the instruments of our design. Using a dialectal behavioral approach I strive for self-improvement and hold in balance the idea of radical self-acceptance. Aim high I think, but also do your best given the circumstances.
How far does my value in freedom and personal expression lead me? Or conversely, how far does the value and emphasis I place on restraint lead me? And in following these values and when making mistakes do I stop to apologize and make amends?
What was interesting for me going into this test is that I was able to see it better for what it was—just a test. A test that was going to produce a measurement. That doesn’t mean that I was able to rid myself of all test-taking anxiety. But it did give me greater empathy for the students I work with.
With all the work I’ve done on myself I was actually able to relax somewhat even when I knew I didn’t know the answer to the question–self improvement and self acceptance. That in turn produced greater focus and the ability to perform my best.