Objectivity in a Subjective Course

When a student gets a grade back, their first thought is, “Why did I lose points?” In some classes, such as math or science, this is clear cut. There are right and wrong answers. However, in a class like English, it is not so cut and dry. Every answer could be the correct one, as long as there is textual evidence. This concept works during class discussions, but on standardized tests how can such a subjective topic have an objective grading system? 

According to the College Board, the creators of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and exams, “AP Exams are created and scored by teams of AP teachers and college professors.” When forming an AP exam, these individuals’ personal experiences and perspectives are shaping students’ scores. Every passage in any standardized English exam could be read thousands of different ways. Individuals’ personal experience affects whether a student reads a passage and concludes it is about addiction versus family. Writing is meant to be subjective; that is why it is interesting to read and discuss. 

Figurative language gives writing its power and its meaning. The trouble is when figurative language reads differently for everyone. While the satire in “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift is quite indisputable, individual metaphors within the piece are not so black and white. The purpose of figurative language may not always be so clear to discern. 

A key piece of writing is imagery. Imagery can look and feel different to each reader; this can then change its perceived intentions. Aphantasia, as described by the BBC, is a condition in which some people are unable to visualize mental images. Of the one to three percent of people who have aphantasia, according to Live Science, they may go their entire lives never knowing they have it. Without ever having experienced anything else, many people don’t realize there is any other way to “imagine” things. For me, when an English teacher discussed imagery, I never realized what that meant for many of my peers. Imagery to them, and for many people, was actually picturing what was described. I know what an apple looks like, and I know what the color green is, but I’m not actually seeing anything. For most people that I have talked to, this can be hard to understand, but I don’t understand the concept of mentally visualizing anything, either. On standardized tests, and even in class discussions, I have never understood questions referring to the importance of imagery because for me, it has never been important. 

Aphantasia is not the only thing that can affect a student’s ability to analyze a piece in the way a standardized test wants them to. Conditions like dyslexia and even just general life experience all change how a piece is interpreted. Standardized tests won’t be going away any time soon, and they will continue to affect students’ grades. As a student, stay engaged in class and have discussions with your peers and teacher if you are viewing things differently, and how that would look on standardized tests. This issue will not be solved with a simple solution, so it is important to be proactive with grades and to reach out when you need it.

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