Working with a friend who is seeking his GED, we talked about how he came so close when he took the GED test before, and what he can do differently this time. He was within a point of getting his GED when he took the test, a heartbreaker, and I respect him for trying again.
When we talked about how he prepared for the test last time, I realized that he had concentrated so hard on the test, as though that would be the end of the process. He’s also studying to become licensed as a truck driver. I helped him study and pointed out that he was so fixed on the test itself, he’d lost sight of the real goal, a career. The license is necessary but the exam, and the license, isn’t the goal. Those are steps to the goal, which would be the career that followed. “You’re studying for the test,” I told him, “but the test is just to show that you know the information you’ll need when you’re doing the job. Don’t study for the test, study for the career, so you’ll know this stuff and be able to use it.”
He blinked at me. “That’s what I do,” he said. “I study for the test. I did the same thing with the GED. I didn’t study to understand it and be able to use it — I studied to pass the test. This time I’m studying for understanding more than for the test, so I’m remembering more.” It’s true. His English has improved so much in the past year. He’s worked hard, and it shows. He hasn’t just memorized things; he’s understanding concepts. “It’s like when someone gets married for the wedding,” he told me. “A wedding isn’t about the wedding. It’s about the marriage and the years and the life that follow.”
And learning is about understanding. Yes, we need to pass the tests, but the tests are to show that we understand and can, hopefully, make use of the information. My friend has stopped studying for the test, or, as he puts it, getting married for the wedding, and he’s really learning.