What’s With All The Video Games?

Believe it or not, video games are actually a lot like standardized tests. I know it doesn’t seem that way at first glance, but think about it–when you play a ninja video game, or a football video game, or a racing video game, are you really using the skills that a ninja, a quarterback, or a driver would need to use? Of course not. The video game is sort of a simplified, broken down, controlled and predictable version of the actual activity, so much so that what makes you great at the real-life version won’t necessarily help you at all in the game version, and vice-versa.

The same phenomenon exists in standardized testing. Standardized tests supposedly measure your ability to do whatever it is you want to do–be a lawyer, attend grad school, get into a certain college, or go to a private school. But because the tests have to be standardized and largely multiple choice, and because of a lot of other limitations of the testing format, standardized tests end up being only loosely related to any kind of real-life ability. Taking a standardized test always turns out to be a unique activity with its own bizarre rules that rewards an unlikely set of skills.

And, in the same way that someone who wants to get better at a football video game should spend time playing the video game, and not actually on a football field, someone who wants to do well on a standardized test needs to learn the rules and patterns and structure and weaknesses of the test, instead of focusing on the things the test pretends to measure. Taking standardized tests at face value is one of the single biggest mistakes you can make.

To make a long story short, being good at a video game and being good at a standardized test both require a similar approach. They’re both standardized, predictable, limited simulations, and learning to exploit those inherent weaknesses is what will get you the best score in the least amount of time.