Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Today I took a civil service exam for a promotional recruitment list. It was a multiple choice test, where you fill in the bubbles with a number two pencil.

I took the afternoon off for the test, and just before I left my office, one of my colleagues and I did one of those surprise face-offs in the hallway - she was walking by fast and I was coming out - and I stopped short and....twisted my bum knee. Just by the trick of getting a little off balance.

I limped to my car and drove to the testing location, stopping on the way for a quick hamburger at the drive-thru.

Sitting in the parking lot I proceeded to dribble ketchup on my shirt.

I hobbled into the testing room, showed my photo ID, picked up the test booklet, two pencils, the testing form, and two pieces of scratch paper. The monitor stopped me and made me give back one piece of scratch paper.

I obediently sat and waited without opening my test booklet while they gave the instructions. They told us to turn off our cell phones, so I held down the little button on the top until the screen went dark.

The first 20 or so questions were math-based. Review a sample quarterly report, choose which values to put in the blank cells. Analyze the data to determine the percentage of the variables. When I have to do this under pressure without a calculator or Excel, I am reduced to the same paralysis that gripped me in the seventh grade. Even with scratch paper.

Then questions about functions of spreadsheets - formulas, formatting, and locating cells. I'm pretty good at that, but in a funny way I'm almost TOO good at it. I am so practiced at using the mouse to perform quick tasks that I no longer think about what I do. So choosing a multiple choice answer that describes the proper terms of each step was actually weird. What tool bar is the format number icon on? When I open a new spreadsheet, are there already worksheets visible, or do they only become visible after I right-click and add new? I don't remember!

Then I got bogged down into some really wretched problems about Human Resources policy, compensations and pay rates. If a Ditch-Digger being paid at Step Two of the classified rate gets night shift differential which for his class is 10%, is it true or false that a Ditch-Digger can be paid more than a Truck Mechanic? If a classified employee under bargaining unit C files a second appeal in the grievance procedure, what are the maximum number of days from the initial filing of the grievance before he gets a ruling?

Then my phone rang, inside my purse, on the floor beneath my chair.

I instinctively grabbed for my purse, but realized that the instructions specified we were not to access any other materials. The monitors pursed their lips and shook their heads, while the little marimba rattled away to its final plink.

It was hard to get my mind back around figuring which step a supervisor classifed as P-12 should be compensated at.

The monitor said, "Thirty minutes remaining."

I flipped to the back of the booklet. 91 questions. Hmm. I was at 68. I skipped the remaining HR questions and went into the next section, writing. That was easy!. I blazed through to finish at question 91, and then went back to the questions I'd skipped.

"Two minutes remaining."

I double checked a math answer I'd been uneasy about, corrected it. Checked my bubbles to make sure they were all proper. Checked my erasures.  I picked up my test materials, went to the head of the room and turned everything in.

As I headed into the hallway bathroom, I heard the monitor announce, "Put down your pencils."

In the ladies room, another person emerged from the stall. "How'd you do?" I asked.

"Wow," she said. "I didn't realize that kind of stuff would be on the test. And it was so long. 100 questions."

100 questions?

I have a bum knee, ketchup on my shirt, the monitors hate me, and I missed 9 questions.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Momma told me there's be days like this...

Anonymous said...

Oh Aunt Snow, I feel your pain! I always hated those tests. Sometimes the reading of the questions takes so much time. So many things we do on a regular basis are pure instinct, but ask us to explain how or why we do them? That gets tricky. Ten years ago I took such a test to work at a large temporary service. The testing was done on a computer, but the questions where about what steps are done to do a task. If the test had been to do the task, ie. set up a spreadsheet, I could do it in a heartbeat, but to actually answer how to do I went blank. And of course it was a timed test.
About twenty years ago I was asked to take a typing test for a job where I would be using a computer. The typing test? I was escorted into a room with an old Smith Caronna MANUAL typewriter! I was stunned. After the test the woman told me "Well, you didn't pass, I thought you said you could type!". I told her I could type, but I hadnt used a MANUAL typewriter since highschool, in1968. Needless to say I didn't get the job.
Anyway, dont feel bad. Good luck and you probably did better than you think.

Kizz at 117 Hudson said...

I'm still stuck on the fact that she made you put back the 2nd piece of scratch paper! WTF?!?!

I learned Excel because a woman made a super complicated spreadsheet then taught me how to use it and passed the responsibility to me. Skipped all the introductory materials! I would have failed that section of the test SO HARD.

You deserve a glass of wine! (White, to prevent staining.)

smalltownme said...

It sounds like one of those nightmares.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Well, CRAP!

(I said that a lot at work today when I kept making mistakes.)

What an awful experience.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Blargh! That sounds horrible and a complete waste of time if you are really trying to determine what skills someone has to actually do a job. I would totally suck at a test like this even without the twisted knee and ketchup shirt. Yes, you definitely deserve wine!

ilyanna said...

I can't devise a more useless question than "what steps do you take to perform this function in excel" on a multiple choice test. I think the problem was not with you, but with the darn test itself.
that said, I'm sure you did quite well with the ones you did do.
Hope you're feeling better by now.