Why me read suck?
February 24, 2009 11:32 PM   Subscribe

After about 20 years of believing myself to be a perfectly accomplished reader, I have been told that in fact 66 percent of America is better then me. Why?

So a little bit ago I decided to go back to school to get a degree or generally put myself on a career path that will end with an internship-come-career in Public Radio, or Public Television, Although I would prefer radio, I think that it is an unfortunately overlooked side of the public broadcasting coin and will always be around no matter how many people have an intertube in their bathroom and kitchen and bedroom and foyer..

I've always been good with words, and a relative encouraged me to try journalism. I've always wanted to be a freelance writer and somehow make money off it, but never though it a legitimate option (do you know any freelance writers who can even support themselves?) But the idea made me think of my secret desire I've had since I was a kid to go into radio. So I am on a path, working with my advised at a local community college, to pursue a course of study that will make me an attractive candidate for Public Broadcasting internships.

This is entirely unimportant to my question however.

I always felt school to be an intellectually stifling experience, and never finished high school. Nor did I ever attain an equivalency, whenever the issue came up with prospective employers I would simply lie. They would never follow up because I never came off like someone who lacked a basic 12th grade education. But when I decided to attend college, it became important that I have that academic scarlet letter(s), the GED. I took all the tests, and certainly passed them all well enough to get the "degree", even mathematics which was a subject I feared enough to never take the test for nearly a decade. But when I saw my test results, my score in the Reading subsection of Language Arts was shockingly low. a score of 490 or 46th percentile was frustratingly low. I felt a number of the questions (all multiple choice) were asking for something that could not have a "correct" answer: subjective interpretation. For example, one question asked me how a character from Portrait Of A Lady would react to a statement his scene-mate would possibly say, of these two of them seemed likely. No one more then the other, and being that this is asking for an interpretation I don't feel as though it's truly possibly to have a "right" answer. Certainly there could be a wrong answer, but how did my interpretation of the text make for such a low score? It was the final test of that day, so I was mentally tired to say the least, but I feel cheated. I am better then 46th percentile, but I don't want to bother re-taking the test and paying the fees just for my own self edification.

Is this just another fault of standardized testing? Or does subjective interpretation in fact have absolute correct and incorrect answers? Will this embarrassingly low score on a section of my GED follow me around as to make re-testing something that would be advantageous of me to do?
posted by mediocre to Education (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No, no one cares -- all anyone cares about is whether you passed. I took the equivalency exam twenty years ago, and have never had an opportunity to give my score in any context, even if I wanted to.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:40 PM on February 24, 2009

Fault of standardized testing, I'd say. I know a lot of really smart people who just test poorly.
posted by NoraReed at 11:44 PM on February 24, 2009

If i'm not mistaken, most of those questions are worded specifically to ask for the "best" answer. Several could be correct, but one works better than the rest.
posted by Ugh at 11:45 PM on February 24, 2009

If you tested in the 46th percentile, then only 56 percent of America is testing better than you.

Often the interpretation questions are about finding the "best" answer; obviously this isn't really going to help anyone understand them, but there are facets of the text that ultimately inform you what the best answer is. As a test-taking strategy, knowing that the author of the test believes there to be a best answer can help choose between the two decent options often presented. Standardized tests are about 60% understanding the subject and 40% figuring out how to take tests well; I wouldn't feel bad about your score as most of the other people taking the GED have been taking tests a lot more recently than you.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:48 PM on February 24, 2009

Argh, 54 percent.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:49 PM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: Aaahahaha... well, I did say that math was my worst subject..
posted by mediocre at 11:50 PM on February 24, 2009

Yeah, but the real dig in 0xFCAF's comment was about grammar.

Most of those "subjective interpretation" issues are really little logic games. They try to catch you on subtle details. People who are good at logic games do very well at these tests.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:58 PM on February 24, 2009

I meant to add, I would suggest re-taking it for a couple of reasons. First, I was told when practicing for the ACT that just by taking the test a second time, even with no additional preparation, you can expect a 5-15% improvement on your score. Secondly, your college will likely use these scores to gauge what classes will be pre-requisites for you. Trust me, you do not want to be forced to pay tuition for a remedial reading class which you will almost certainly not need and will not apply towards your degree.
posted by Ugh at 12:01 AM on February 25, 2009

Response by poster: My COMPASS placement scores and my GED scores are two entirely separate entities.
posted by mediocre at 12:24 AM on February 25, 2009

If you have the time and your advisor suggests trying to get a better score, take a test-prep class and then re-take the test. Those classes teach you strategies to work through these tests and they generally do work.

As for those subjective questions, there are always strategies to figuring them out - your example probably had some little detail that was pertinent to the story or character. In a multiple choice test such as the GRE, ACT, GED, there are ALWAYS right answers - whether you believe it or not. And there are tactics to use in figuring out which one it is.

Will your test scores prevent you from transferring to another college? Or do any of the internships require a transcript or test scores? Both of these are easy enough to find out with a little research.
posted by barnone at 12:32 AM on February 25, 2009

First off, even if a faulty question does sneak its way in, standardized tests like the GED or AP exams are heavily analyzed and the test designers usually throw out questions that are clearly bombs (like if even the highest scoring students aren't getting them right).

I wouldn't worry about the GED score unless you want to prove something to yourself. However, you do need to learn how to write multiple choice tests well - there will be *plenty* of those in your future when you go to college. Simply throwing your hands up and saying, "Hey, standardized testing is faulty! I'm smart, honest!" isn't going to help you. You need to figure out what it is about the test format that's giving you trouble.

Like others said, there IS always a right, BEST answer. The other answers aren't necessarily wrong, and the right answer isn't necessarily great, but there will always be one that is the better than the rest, and it will be the best one for a reason. Like others have suggested, it usually helps to look at the test from the perspective of the test designer - simply, why are they asking this question? What is there in this passage that would enable them to formulate this question? Why is answering this question important to the reader's understanding of the passage? If you're stumped between two answers, don't just pick the one that sounds right to you and move on. Never pick an answer that you can't justify with concrete evidence. Go back into the passage and look for clues and hints, both in the details and in the overall context.

You should also know that the more you learn about an art, the less subjective it becomes. As far as prose literature goes, it's just about the least subjective of all the fine arts. It just takes practice. Do more practice exams - try to get a teaching book such as Kaplan, where the correct as well as wrong answers will be explained to you. It won't do you any good to go blindly plugging away, you have to start understanding why your wrong answers are wrong. When I started practicing to write the LSAT, I kept getting questions wrong without knowing why, but I'd understand as soon as it was explained to me. Within a month, I was acing the reading comp sections every time.

One last thing... and I really hope you don't take offense, but "internship-come-career" should be "internship-cum-career." No, not that kind of cum. ;) Cum is a Latin word with many uses, one of which is to indicate that something changes into something else.

I wish you the best of luck in your academic career.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:47 AM on February 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

I did not graduate from high school. Like methylviolet, I also have never had to, or been able to, say anything about my scores on the GED. I'm pretty sure those who have not taken the GED are not aware of it even having any scoring outside of pass/fail. So to answer your question, taking the test again would not affect anything but your your own "self edification" if your ego hinges on this score.

To be completely honest, though, the GED test read to me like a check as to whether or not English was your first language. And after reading your question, I would guess that English is not your first language. In your one opening sentence you've already made a subject-verb agreement error, and than vs then in your third to last sentence is also misused. Both of these are extremely easy to spot for a native speaker, but should give an ambiguous challenge to a non-native speaker.

I don't think a limited command of English should prohibit you from a career in public radio. The most prohibitive thing is likely your mindset. So if you can get over your low score and realize it will not preclude you from a career in radio, just do your best to find your niche in that industry. If it has sapped your confidence, however, definitely study hard and retake the test. Even if the score itself has nothing to do with any part of the application process for school or future positions, if it will make you more confident in your pursuits, retesting would probably be worth it.

tl;dr get over it and just do your best to pursue your interests, only retest if it will help boost your confidence cuz it doesn't matter otherwise.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 3:37 AM on February 25, 2009

I wouldn't take a score on the GED--or any standardized test--as indicative of overall ability. I'd take it as indicative of one performance, given a certain set of constraints, at a certain point in time. That you've even read Portrait of a Lady puts you past most of the other takers of the test, who simply read that question and guessed. It's a multiple-choice test, after all. It's going to, at least in part, be testing your ability to take standardized multiple-choice tests (certainly a useful skill, of course, but not an upward bound on your abilities as a human being).

I would suspect it is lack of test-taking strategy, rather than lack of intelligence, that led to your score. Did the test result do what it needed to do? Did it get you into college? It would seem to me that it has done its work, then, and it's time to move on. If it's a point of pride or there's some reason to think it could haunt you, hit the test-prep books and retake it. But I don't see it being an issue, except in your own head.
posted by wheat at 3:57 AM on February 25, 2009

Is this just another fault of standardized testing?

No. Some people do better than others on tests. If that weren't the case, well - you fill in the blank.

Or does subjective interpretation in fact have absolute correct and incorrect answers?

On something like the GED, yeah, pretty much.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:02 AM on February 25, 2009

Screw it. The kind of college degree that you're looking for will doubtfully judge you on a GED test. I am also in the humanities and scored dreadfully low on the GREs. Fortunately, it was letters of rec, writing samples, and my CV that got me into grad school, not standardized test scores. If I had gone into science or mathematics, that probably would have been a problem, but honestly, you are clearly a capable and intelligent individual, something that re-taking a craptastic standardized test will not confirm or deny.

And speaking of standardized testing, I am against it in general. I work with inner city kids whose teachers are "teaching toward the test" and this is seriously not helping them (students or teachers) at all. So poop on the GED.

And I concur with wheat, too, because strategy is often more useful in a test like this one.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:49 AM on February 25, 2009

I don't think there is any reason to take the GED over again. As I understand it, the GED is like taking the test for your drivers license-if you pass by one question or you get all of the questions right, the outcome is identical.

That said, your GED scores do show you that you might not test well in reading. I would work on this before taking a college placement test like COMPASS, as that one will impact your life by dictating what classes you take and how long it will take you to get a degree.
posted by mjcon at 6:23 AM on February 25, 2009

The way you wrote your question indicates that you are not very direct, but you are creative and expressive. It's possible that you are just not that good at choosing the best answer quickly.

That doesn't mean you are not good with words. If you go into journalism I would not recommend trying for the WSJ (or any who/what/where/how -type publication), but some of the quirkier or more analytic stories that public radio does might be right up your ally. Don't sweat the test results.
posted by txvtchick at 6:36 AM on February 25, 2009

it's also "internship-cum-career" ... Not that this is a pile-on for grammar checking and generally being a dick. I just don't want you to make a mistake in an email or cover letter that you'll send out.

With regards to your question, if you want to improve on these reading comprehension questions, you need to learn the tricks. For example, the right answer will never include some kind of universal language "NEVER," "ALWAYS," even "MUST." A best answer will always have a shade of doubt, or will be worded in a slightly more equivocal way (even if the passage is about slavery or somesuch). There are a bunch of other tips, but they are out there. You can either take a course (expensive), or get a course book at the library or bookstore (cheap). Best $40 I ever spent. I Learned a lot of vocabulary that way too.
posted by zpousman at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2009

To be completely honest, though, the GED test read to me like a check as to whether or not English was your first language. And after reading your question, I would guess that English is not your first language. In your one opening sentence you've already made a subject-verb agreement error, and than vs then in your third to last sentence is also misused. Both of these are extremely easy to spot for a native speaker, but should give an ambiguous challenge to a non-native speaker.

Dude. Not cool. I sit in college classrooms full of students who commit worse errors on a daily basis. Not only are they native speakers, they are affluent recipients of private educations. I see nothing that indicates that the OP isn't a native speaker. You are the shockingly out of touch one here when it comes to the prevailing standards of grammatic precision.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:48 AM on February 25, 2009 [11 favorites]

As one who is currently sifting through a mountain of resumes from journalism majors (though not for a position such as you're seeking), your writing 'reads' as one who is self-taught despite your college education (which I'm guessing wasn't grounded by the basics of composition and close reading of texts, essay-writing). So yes, conventional testing might trip you up. So might conventional resume-writing, interviewing, writing samples, etc. I think some adult ed courses would do wonders for you, but stick with the fundamentals, don't outsmart yourself. Good luck!
posted by thinkpiece at 7:08 AM on February 25, 2009

46th percentile and 54 percentile are.. not that far off. you tested as average. As someone who does REALLY WELL on standardized tests, I can tell you they mean nothing.

this post is pretty eponysterical
posted by jrishel at 7:15 AM on February 25, 2009

In my 20+ years in academia, I found that many people there could not think clearly about whether or not there's such a thing as a correct -- or "best" -- interpretation. For instance, a fellow student once interpreted the color red in the background of a movie to symbolize blood. The professor said, "You're wrong. Red doesn't symbolize blood. It's symbolizes passion," as if he had some secret (and definitive) symbol encyclopedia.

Here's the bottom line on interpretation:

-- There are marks on a page that TEND to evoke images and sensations in people's brains.

-- Due to cultural and genetic forces that play on all readers, the sensations and images each of us get from a book TEND to be similar.

-- Many of us, when we read, tend to imagine (or be capable of imagining) things that aren't explicitly stated in the book. These things can be derived from what IS in the book, though often they require help from commonly-shared cultural information, too.

But -- bottom line again -- ultimately, there are marks on a page that somehow stimulate responses in your brain. Those responses are what they are. They can't be right or wrong. They can't be better or worse. They are sensations.

Academia has attempted to do something noble -- to find a way that we can, as a group, discuss something that's ultimately subjective and private to each of us. That's great, but it's lead many individual professors and students to believe that there actually is some kind of correct subjective experience. Whereas I'd say that there are just common experiences and eccentric ones. If you interpret "Portrait of a Lady" differently from everyone else, you're not wrong -- as long as you're reading careful and having an honest reaction -- you're just eccentric.

In academia, there are often standard interpretations (Feminist interpretations or whatever). These are not "right." They are ways of thinking about things that groups of people have found useful. Often they've been useful for extra-literary reasons, e.g. political reasons. Again, many professors forget (or don't understand) that these schools of thought aren't gospel. They are vogues. In my experience, academia is EXTREMELY vogue-ish. Schools-of-thought are the academy's version of long vs. short hem lines. Woe to you if you don't agree with the flavor of the month!

Having said all that, there are -- in my mind -- certain interpretative questions that come close to having right and wrong answers. For instance, if a story starts like this...

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Sam. Sam hated spinach...

... and you were asked this question, "If Sam's mother put a plate of spinach in front of him, would he eat it or push it away," it's hard not to think of the latter as the best answer.

I still say that it's not really right or best. ALL the story tells us is that Sam hates spinach. It does NOT say what he would do if his mother put a plate of spinach in front of him. It's reasonable to assume he'd push it away, but that's all we can say: it's reasonable.

This is easier to see if we stop talking about fiction for a moment. Let's say there's a real-life woman named Betty. Betty is 40 years old, and she's voted Republican since she's been old enough to vote. How will she vote in the next election?

Republican is a reasonable answer. But is it the "best" answer? Maybe, but we have to define what we mean by "best." What we're really doing here is using induction. We've observed that Betty has always voted Republican in the past, so it seems likely that she'll vote Republican in the future. SO IF WE ACCEPT INDUCTION AS A VALID FORM OF REASONING IN THIS CASE, we can conclude that "Republican" is the best answer. We're defining "best" as "most secure answer based on inductive reasoning."

However, I think an equally valid answer is "We don't know." We can't look into the future, so we have no idea how Betty will vote. Most people won't accept that "we don't know" is as good an answer as "Republican" (based on induction), but to me it is -- it's an eccentric answer, because most people use induction -- but it's not wrong or worse (because we really DON'T know).

Some interpretive answers are based on deduction. Consider the following:

Sam put a marble in his left pocket, which was otherwise empty, and then forgot all about it. Later, he reached into his left pocket and felt something small and round...

The text does NOT say that what Sam was feeling was the marble. But we can deduce that it is (the only thing in he put in his pocket is the marble; marbles are small and round; Sam felt something small and round in his pocket; therefor he felt the marble.)

There's an interesting cultural force that plays here: what if you said, "Yes, but the story says that 'later' he felt something small and round. So time passed between the time he put the marble in his pocket and the time he felt the small, round object. In between those two times, someone could have slipped something else into his pocket, like a round pebble. Maybe that's what he was feeling."

A professor could -- with some reason on his side -- say, "Yes, but that's not the BEST answer." The problem, again, is that he's not defining "best." He's assuming you share certain cultural traits with him (and probably with most people). He's assuming that you apply Occam's Razor to fiction -- that the simplest solution is the best. That the best answer involves the least personal additions to the plot. But that definition of best is arbitrary. It needn't be your definition. If it's not your definition, I'd again suggest you're eccentric. But I don't think you're wrong. What I do think is wrong is that these meta-issues are rarely discussed in literature courses. It's assumed that we all share the same philosophy and value system. But that might not be the case.

Another thing that's rarely discussed is that school is at least partly a socialization process. In other words, the (generally unspoken) expectation in school is that you'll not just learn how to reason, but that you'll learn how to reason using culturally accepted, in-vogue techniques. Most academics act like the techniques aren't just culturally accepted. They act like they are Eternal Truths. In my experience, most students just "get it." They get it (without even realizing they get it), because they are culturally normal. School is hard for those of us who are a little eccentric. We'll often find ourselves asking questions like, "but why does it have to be that way?" or "why is one of those interpretations better than the other?" If we voice those questions, we'll generally get blank stares (and Fs). That's because the common assumption is that the current cultural vogue is gospel.

If you want to ace these tests, your best bet is to read extremely carefully. Make sure you pick up on all the info that IS explicitly stated in the story. Then use induction, deduction and Occam's Razer to answer the questions. If you can think a little bit about cultural norms while you're doing this, you'll do even better.
posted by grumblebee at 7:33 AM on February 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I fell off Occam's Razer and now wander from point to point on foot via the most circuitous route possible.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2009

I always read those short stories or paragraphs backwards AFTER reading the questions. Then I read it forwards and went to answer the questions.

That made it easy for me to just pick out all the little hints to answer the questions correctly instead of getting caught up in the fluff and plot of the story.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2009

Yes, some standardized tests are bad. They only work if the writer and the taker assume NOTHING and only work off the data in the question. So when you are taking a test that asks you to read a paragraph and answer a few questions, the test isn't trying to figure out how smart you are. It's trying to figure out simply what it's asking- based on what you read, would Jane do A B or C. What they are trying to determine is how you analyze the data, they don't care about anything else. (Or, a least, if it's well constructed.) So even if the paragraph says something that you think is illogical or unbelievable, the "right" answer can't come from your belief, it has to come from only what's presented. It's not testing how well you can intellectually "riff" on something, it's testing your ability to follow directions and comprehend only what's presented.

The issue isn't to account for cultural differences, but how well you ignore them. If the question says "if a 2000 pound cow is butchered and has 800 pounds of unusable offal, how much usable meat is there?" They aren't asking whether you don't think a cow can weigh 2000 pounds or whethere you think eating cows is abhorrent, they are only asking if you can figure out what 800 from 2000 is.

That's a problem creative types have, because its hard to turn off the creativity. That's not a flaw, it's a learning experience. If you are having this kind of trouble, that's a sign that you need to practice focusing. Because that's an equally important goal of education as filling you with facts and formulas. Especially at the lower levels of education- that's why people often feel intellectually unstimulated by high school. It's about learning how to think, analyze, order and present data based on the requirements given, which isn't fun and isn't easy for most people. For example, Creative Writing courses aren't about what clever ideas you have. It's about how well you can take that clever idea and present it as per the requirements of the exercise. Or math- no point in remembering the formulas if you don't know how to apply them.

How does this apply to radio, you might wonder? There's a reason people like Stern and Limbaugh are successful- they learned how to present things in the time and manner allotted, in a way that their listeners enjoy. Want to be a news writer? Better be able to determine the most relevant facts for the story and present them clearly and in the 15 seconds allotted, or you won't be successful...
posted by gjc at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2009

I'm embarrassed to blow my own horn, but I get paid a good salary for my job as a computer programmer. I'm also about to have my forth book published. I just bring this up because I got TERRIBLE scores on standardized tests. I forget what I got on my SATs, but my scores basically classified me as a moron. And when I applied to grad schools, I only considered schools that didn't use test scores to evaluate applicants.

Test-taking is a skill unto itself. Some of us are smart but bad at taking tests.

I hate taking tests, and I'm not interested in improving my test-taking skills. I'd rather just arrange my life so that I don't have to take any more tests. However, in your shoes, I would look into tools that help you become a better test-taker. There are companies (Princeton Review?) that are ready to take your money and help you improve your scores. There are also books and online resources. Get thee to google.
posted by grumblebee at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2009

my score in the Reading subsection of Language Arts was shockingly low. a score of 490 or 46th percentile was frustratingly low

There's nothing to be frustrated about. You did less well than 54% of the people taking that test.

I am better then 46th percentile

The test is not a test of worth as a human being. You scored in the 46th percentile on that test. That does not make you "better" than 45.9% of the people who took the test, or "worse" than 54% of the people who took the test--what it means is that you had a lower score than 54% of the test-takers, and a higher score than 45.9% of the test-takers.

So, as other people have suggested, the way to improve your test scores is to work on your test-taking skills.

And I would also discourage you from getting into the kind of value judgments you're expressing in the post. You're not "better than" standardized tests, or high school, or college, or whatever. If you want to pursue more education, you'd do well to lose the sour-grapes "Education is stifling and can't teach me anything" attitude, because as someone who used to work in adult-learner higher ed, there was nothing that set our teeth on edge like prospective students who had that kind of superiority/inferiority complex going on.

You are not "less than" for having gotten a slightly below-average score on a standardized test. And you are not "more than" for finding standardized tests convoluted and shallow.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:43 AM on February 25, 2009

As someone who does very well on those sorts of tests, trust me when I say they don't measure how well you read. Seriously. There's too many of the questions you described that test your test-taking skills, not whether you can pick something up and read it and understand it.

I don't know if the score is going to follow you around and keep you from certain jobs or schools, but as far as the psychological toll goes, don't sweat it. You can pick up things and read them, right? Then you're fine.
posted by Nattie at 11:46 AM on February 25, 2009

You were being tested on two things: reading comprehension and taking tests. You may have been exercising your ability to read for all these years, but you probably weren't practicing taking tests. And you were competing with people (high school students) who are being tested regularly. They have a lot of recent experience with being tested.

I'm just offering this as a rational explanation as to why your score was lower than you expected. If you haven't been taking tests, you may not have been as prepared as you thought. Also, as others have said above, the results probably don't matter very much.
posted by yath at 12:51 PM on February 25, 2009

GooseOnTheLoose: In your one opening sentence you've already made a subject-verb agreement error, and than vs then in your third to last sentence is also misused.

I am going to go nuts. I did graduate high school, I take tests well, I have an honours degree in languages, and I can't spot the subject-verb error in this sentence -
After about 20 years of believing myself to be a perfectly accomplished reader, I have been told that in fact 66 percent of America is better then me.

Please hope me. Is that not what you meant by opening sentence (although I've checked the whole post and couldn't see another one either)? It also amused me that you didn't appear to spot the first (and consistently made) error of than/then.
posted by jacalata at 1:01 PM on February 25, 2009

'better than I' is theoretically the prescriptively correct formulation, for all levels of writing and for speech above the informal. It seems to be falling into disuse, however.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:13 PM on February 25, 2009

huh. For a start, that's not even a subject/verb disagreement, given that they both refer to the same subject. If it were still recognised as an error, it'd be choosing the incorrect case for the pronoun. Bad pedantry!
posted by jacalata at 3:28 PM on February 25, 2009

that's not even a subject/verb disagreement
No it's not, but it was the only possible candidate I found for the additional error mentioned above.

Help that hopes. ;P
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:34 PM on February 25, 2009

I scored relatively poorly on the GRE (to enter college) yet I am a doctoral student who truly enjoys learning. My math scores since middle school have been abysmal to the point where I believe I have the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia (I believe it's called dyscalculia or something similar). Because of this, I stay away from anything related to math if I can. The career you want, however, requires a high level of literacy, I would imagine. I must say- just to be honest with you- that your writing skills are not the best. I would concentrate on the skills you need rather than worrying about a GED score that no one will ask you about in the future.

By the way, if you go to college, NPR offers internships. I had a friend who is in her late 30s and was able to apply for an internship.
posted by Piscean at 4:04 PM on February 25, 2009

'better than I' is theoretically the prescriptively correct formulation, for all levels of writing and for speech above the informal. It seems to be falling into disuse, however.

"I" and "me" aren't levels of formality. One is a subject, one is an object. (Or at least, it is used incorrectly when it is used that way.)

(The problem with the sentence is that it should be "than", not "then". Then is a time, than is a comparison.)


" I have been told that in fact 66 percent of America is better then me."

Or, "I have been told that x is better than y". Or, "x is better than y".

Now, as the sentence is constructed, we aren't comparing actions, we are comparing things. The rest of America versus me. If the sentence were "better at reading than me", it would be wrong, because one side of the comparison would be an action, the other side would be a person. So it could be rewritten to say "is better at reading than I am." But in this comparison, "I" am the object, the comparison refers to "me", not an action that "I" am doing.
posted by gjc at 6:05 PM on February 25, 2009

I didn't say they "were levels of formality." I said that the prescriptively correct usage in anything but the most informal language is "I" and not "me."

If you've got a problem with that tell it to Columbia, among others.

Edited English and most Standard levels of speech above Casual, plus all written levels above Informal, insist on He is better [at basketball] than I [am]. Than is a subordinating conjunction introducing a clause whose subject should be in the nominative case; the clause serves as adverbial modifier of better, in many instances with the full clause suppressed and only the conjunction and pronoun actually spoken or written. In Casual, Impromptu, and some Informal use, however, you will also find He is better [at basketball] than me, where than is construed as a preposition, with its object properly accusative. The prepositional phrase then is an adverbial modifier of better. My sister is better at math than me is Casual and Impromptu, and appropriate only at those levels and in their written imitations.

---The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Copyright © 1993 Columbia University Press

And, as I said, this rule isn't so widely observed any more--as may also be true, I suppose, of such rigid distinctions between different registers (i.e. levels of formality.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:15 PM on February 25, 2009

I would assume GooseOntheLoose is referring to "66 percent of America is better than me" as opposed "66 percent of America are better than me" as a subject/verb agreement error. However I disagree that this is an error in American usage.

I have to say, though, that I'm bothered by this sentence: "But when I decided to attend college, it became important that I have that academic scarlet letter(s), the GED." The scarlet letter was a badge of shame, a letter A worn by Hester Prynne to identify her as an adulteress, so that reference doesn't seem to make sense.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:45 PM on February 25, 2009

ludwig_van is right, that would only be an error in British English, in AmEng there's nothing wrong with it.

In BrEng, 'are' is used for collections that are logically plural even if they also have a singular identity.

Congress is debating
Parliament are debating

posted by atrazine at 8:52 PM on February 25, 2009

I have to say, though, that I'm bothered by this sentence: "But when I decided to attend college, it became important that I have that academic scarlet letter(s), the GED." The scarlet letter was a badge of shame, a letter A worn by Hester Prynne to identify her as an adulteress, so that reference doesn't seem to make sense.

GED are 'scarlet letters' in the sense that they identify you as a high school drop-out, and that an 'equivalency' degree carries a stigma in the academic world.

I'm pretty sure communitycollegereview.com is a shill site for admissions referrals, but they do have a decent encapsulation of the attitudes towards the GED:

There continues to be a stigma associated with the GED. The negative connotation seems to be related to the perception of high school dropouts rather than to the GED itself. A common assumption may be that students drop out of high school because of behavioral or academic problems, whereas in practice there are a range of circumstances that keep students from finishing high school. In addition, getting a GED may be associated with cutting corners or with a lack of perseverance. Most individuals spend less time preparing for the GED test than they would spend attending one year of high school. Educators assert that GED holders do not get the benefit of the breadth of subject matter and social interactions that are part of a high school education.

posted by snuffleupagus at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2009

I see, well then I stand corrected.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:30 AM on February 26, 2009

Best answer: In the COMPASS test, I tested 100% in reading and writing, placing myself in any 200 level composition class I choose. So suck it, all you condescending fuckwits who seemingly came in here simply to laugh at the dropout with a low GED score. To the others, thanks.
posted by mediocre at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older What's the best Yosemite camp ground for a group...   |   What branch of biology studies the environment to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.