Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tests and Results

The initial mould:
Our education system plays a very important role in how we perceive the world (and what it does to us). Unfortunately, at a very early stage, we are introduced to the concept of 'test'. This notoriously has two out comes - 'pass' and 'fail'. We are told a 'pass' result makes our teachers, parents and other relatives very happy. While a 'fail' result will bring humiliation, taunts. As a side effect, along with a 'fail' result we learn to lie to avoid social ill effects of being identified with the 'fail' result. This learning to lie is the first step towards systematic erosion of values. But that's another discussion.

As we grow, more differentiation was made in the the 'pass' result to bring about - third, second, first and distinction classes. Agreed - that the system is intended to identify (and there by train differently) the bright students. But the society continues to use this to judge the person in fields other than education too.

Real Life Tests:
After being through all these, we get into this world with the same notion of 'tests' and their 'results'. Real world tests do not have an objective result. They are merely subjective statements of behavior. I will give you an example (risking trivializing the concept): When we touch acidic solution with litmus paper, it turns red. We should not classify the result as 'pass' or 'fail'. The 'pass' or 'fail' depends on what you were looking for. Further, if the result was contrary to our liking, then who failed? Is it the acidic solution or us? That solution, no matter how many times, under how many different conditions we try, will still turn the litmus paper red. It is we who will finally change our 'expected behavior'.

Chemistry lab gives a very new way of looking at the tests. We subject a salt into so many tests. At each stage, we get closer and closer to the truth - knowing the salt better and better. We do not discard the salt itself at any stage. At the end of the whole exercise, we would have known the truth and hence we declare 'us' as pass - not the salt (even though it was the salt that went through the tests).

Life is an endless series of tests?
Contrary to popular belief, the real world is not full of tests. It is wrong to see it that way. Its another mistake to expect a pass/fail kind of result in every imaginary test. That only makes it harder when every moment of life is spent in preparation for the next test or brooding over the result of the previous one. I have known people who take every day commute as a test - happy when they reach office in 30 minutes, sad when it takes 40 minutes. There are others who necessarily believe that year-end appraisal is a true picture of one's performance. The rating (and the subsequent pay revision) gives them a sense of 'pass' or 'fail'. Most of us feel job interviews (both interviewers and interviewees) definitely have a 'pass' or a 'fail' result. An objective look at both cases makes the matter more clear. 1. One's commute time is 90% dependent on other people in traffic and only 10% on his own aggressiveness (not even skill). 2. Rating (and subsequent pay revision) only depends on how hard it is for the firm to live without you. Ask any HR (when they are drunk) and you will know. Either way there is little relation between one's ability and the perceived result. 3. Job interviews is just a compatibility test - open position challenges v/s your strengths, company culture v/s your nature, company vision v/s your ambition and lastly money. None of these have a pass or fail... then why attribute its success or failure to yourself?

If imagining yourself to be in endless series of tests was one end of the spectrum there are other kinds of people as well. At some stage, man's ego will grow to such heights that he starts pushing those around him into useless mind games and keeps score. I will let you imagine the repercussions of such acts.

Bottom Line:
Real life tests are very subjective. They do not have results. They are only meant to lead you closer to truth. Avoid labeling subjects of tests as 'fail' when the truth is inconvenient or as 'pass' if it matches your preconceived expectations. I feel incomplete if I do not quote from the second chapter of the Bhagavadgeeta - "Karmanye vadhiraste..."


Srikanth said...


ಮುತ್ತಿನಂತ ಮಾತುಗಳು. ಏಷ್ಟು ನಿಜ ಅನ್ನಿಸ್ತು. Especially , I liked this :[Real world tests do not have an objective result.]

Keep writing-u.
Srikanth V

Krishnanand said...

Good thoughts...


Mayank said...

I see a google Ad called "Analytical tests" on top of your blog. Coincidence? You should get into consultancy fast. :)

aishu said...

Beautiful perspective.!

But 'success' or 'pass' need not be for a litmus test always.

There are various aspects - wisdom, health or even moksha that only when achieved, one feels happy/fulfilled. Isn't the sense of failure a boost for the next attempt to success/improvement?

The hope of attaining what one aims for is what keeps man going, I think.

Ofcourse, feeling bad over things that went unachieved is incongruous.

Prashanth said...

@Sri, @Krishna, @Sunny,

Thanks too.
Very true. You have made the interesting mention of wisdom, health and salvation. Progress in these depend only on your efforts and hence you can take (assume, own up) full credit/blame for the outcome. However, even half way through the perceived 'success' in any of the above fields, one realizes that there is no such thing as completion, no end and hence no result. How much wisdom must you gather to be 'successfully' wise? How long must you live to be declared as 'healthy'? Has anybody 'achieved' moksha? If you achieve salvation, does it matter if it were or were not hailed as 'success'?

Yes, experiences from life's tests always help you in the subsequent quests - because irrespective of the result, the first test (by its very nature) took you more closer to the truth :-)

Shubha said...

agree with most of it.. esp, about not taking life as a series of tests... but it is a continued process of learning and I do think of myself as "successful" if I meet the goals I pre-set for myself... if not I revise my goals and timeframes and go back to working at it.. it is not eactly success or failure but may be someway of keeping track if I am growing (???)