Yesterday, I took the New York State Professional Licensing Exam for Massage Therapists. It sucked.
My girlfriends from school, Penny and Ally and Vic, studied with me for a cumulative total of twelve hours, or so. We reviewed a year's worth of class material, including Anatomy, Pathology, Kinesiology, Neurology, and techniques in Shiatsu, Reflexology, Amna and Trigger Point. We took practice tests too, seeing how inane the questions were, trying to get that edge over the testing situation. We hated the practice tests, but overall we did well. We thought we were so prepared.
The test is a typical standardized multiple-choice test. The questions are often quite vague, badly worded, and sometimes just plain bizarre. The four possible answers provided usually do not include the answer we would like to see, and in some cases, the correct answer – according to the test makers – was directly opposite what we had been taught in class. The test doesn't measure your actual knowledge – it measures how well you can determine what the test makers were thinking when they churned out this ridiculousness.
No problem, we thought, a lot of our tests at school were the same way. It pissed us off then too, but we handled it. Penny, Ally and I were, after all, honors students, with the honor’s certificates hanging on the wall to prove it. How bad could this be?
Oh man. It was just awful. I’d say about fifty percent of the questions were pretty straightforward, and if you knew your material, you’d have no problem. I breezed through those with minimal effort. The other half of the test was comprised of the most obtuse variety of test questions imaginable. A handful of the questions – probably five or less – actually covered stuff that I had never seen or heard of before, in or out of class. And a frightening number of questions – 31 to be exact, I counted – put me in the position of having to make an educated guess. The sort of thing where, in the real world, both a and c would be correct, but here on the scantron, I’m only allowed to choose one answer – what some Municipal Employee feels is “the best” answer. It was bad enough to make me wonder if I might actually be in danger of >gasp< not passing.
It bears mentioning that this was a pencil-and-paper test, where you fill in the appropriate bubble. No computerized testing here! Some poor bastard is going to have to feed over 200 of these papers into a Scan-Tron computer to be read and calculated.
And yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were over 200 - perhaps as many as 300 - people in that room. It was, literally, a gymnasium, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I looked around the sea of people, most of them dressed like H&M window mannequins, and groaned. It’s like graphic design in the late 90’s, I thought to myself. Everybody and their illiterate cousin is going to be a massage therapist.
Let me tell you, there were some people there from my school who were, I’m not kidding, some of the laziest, stupidest people I’ve ever seen. Giggly girls who likely didn’t have the brains, never mind the work ethic, to go to college and get a real education, so they signed up for massage school, knowing they’d be out in a year, and might get employee discount manicures if they can score a job at a spa. The ones who skipped classes, came in chronically late, bitched and whined when class wasn't dismissed early, and found a plethora of ways to get away with doing as little work as possible during their clinic shifts. They just never wanted to work, period. Hey! Get a job in a spa giving massages, and we'll only have to work several days a week! And we don’t have to, like, be able to read or do math or anything.
When I graduated, I rejoiced in the knowledge that I'd likely never see these idiots again. At the test, I avoided them. I said hello to the people I'd missed, but I ignored the Jersey Bimbo Cluster.
Unfortunately, when the test was over, I couldn't avoid them. I had to wait outside the doors for Penny and Ally to finish. There they were, congregating outside the door to the buiding, smoking their cigarettes and tossing their hair over their shoulders, saying “OH, that was so EASY! That wasn’t hard at All!”
I had flashbacks to my dancing days, when the dancers would arrive early to auditions to “warm up,” which really meant showing off their most impressive stretches, psyching out their competition, trying to come across as oh-so-confident. After the audition, they'd all stand around outside the doors chain-smoking, making fun of the audition routine and how EASY it was, gossiping about the production staff (makes you look in-the-know), and eyeing everyone who walks out the door after after them, radiating you’re fat and you know you sucked at each girl with all their might.
This, however, was even more ridiculous, because we weren’t competing with each other! It's not like New York is only going to choose ten of us and the rest will have to go wait tables. Not to mention that watching dancers chain-smoke is nowhere near as disgusting as watching massage therapist wanna-bes smoke. For God’s sake, those stinky hands are going to be touching someone’s face.
A couple of those girls managed to engage me in conversation. I mentioned a certain question on the test which we had never covered in our class. “Well,” gloated Blonde Basket Case, “OUR teacher covered it.” Bimbo With Bad Dye Job, who was in her class, tossed her streaky 'do, tapped her ashes and grinned like Cruella De Ville.
There was, I realized rather quickly, something more than posturing going on here. There had been this little drama going on in our school during our final semester. During the first few weeks of class, about half of the students in the day class transferred into our night class, citing concerns with the day class instructor.
Now, I’m being diplomatic when I say “concerns.” One of the more innocuous complaints reagarding the day instructor involved his ridiculously long, tedious classes, with little practical hands-on work, and highly detailed tests involving lots of rote memorization. A large percentage of students failed those first few tests, and knowing how close we were to graduation, they got the hell out of that class and into ours.
My teacher had a completely different philosophy of education. He taught broad concepts and theory first, and then gradually gave us the details for memorization in manageable chunks. My class LOVED our teacher. We looked forward to this class, even thought it was difficult as hell.
It's also true that I heard wonderful feedback from the clinic clients about the quality of massages being given by students in my class, and nothing whatsoever about the students in the other guy’s class. Our clinic began to sell more massages of this type, because of us. The day class, from what we could gather, worked as hard as we did, maybe harder, but we had more to show for it.
So, during our final semester, we had a “my teacher is better than your teacher” thing going on the hallways, and the students in the two different classes were, to say the least, cold to each other. Some students defended that other teacher, saying “it’s only the lazy students who don’t want to work who flunked his test.” Riiight. Children, I’ve had a lot of teachers in my day. Nothing is ever that simple. And there were other complaints made about the guy which had nothing to do with the amount of work he assigned.
I think his students felt a need to defend that teacher and his methods, taking the criticism of their class personally. I know for a fact that more of his students wanted to defect to our class, and were prevented from doing so, because it would have “thrown off the balance of class weighting,” or something like that. I stayed out of the debate as best I could, but it was hard, especially since my class was so overjoyed to be where we were. There were some people in that other class who I worked with in clinic, and they were quite good. I enjoyed working with them.
The ones who weren’t so good though… the day class was notorious for the Jersey Bimbos. They giggled and talked and flipped through magazines and played with dolls (seriously, I saw it myself) during class. On the rare occasions that we had electives or Saturday classes together, I endured them and the fast-food containers they'd leave lying around the room. The whole school hated them, even their instructors, who confessed their disgust and frustration to some of us older students in the dark corners of the parking lot after grueling days of trying to get them to just pay attention.
The very idea of those idiots transferring into our night class made my classmates and I very upset. We were mostly older people, in our late twenties and thirties. Some of us were holding down steady jobs, some had families. We were all heavily invested in getting the most out of this education. The students who did transfer in, thankfully, were not of this gaggle, and we were all relieved that the transfers stopped when they did.
So, back to test day. Here I am, a night class member, stating that I probably missed a question because my teacher didn’t cover it. I’m sure it was validating for those day class students to know something I didn’t. Especially when I was one of those snobby honor’s students.
Petty, though, eh?
Before I left the exam, I counted up all of the questions I “wasn’t sure about.” I might have chosen the correct answers, but given the makeup of the test, who knows? I’d heard previously that one can miss up to 35 questions and still pass. I had 31 uncertainties. That is WAY too close for comfort. Especially since, like Penny and Ally, I seldom score less than 90%. We are, let’s be honest here, neurotic little perfectionists, and this hit us pretty hard. Penny and Ally were just as trepidatious as me, thinking about our scores.
On the drive home, we all told each other that since we have eight weeks until we learn our scores, (that’s right folks, TWO FUCKING MONTHS) we can’t let ourselves stress this. Penny and Ally are already working as massage therapists, and I’m going to be working at Penny’s spa in a couple of weeks, (did I really say that?) so really, we don’t have much to worry about. It’s not like we can’t work. If the unthinkable happens, and we don’t pass, we’ll re-test in August. And you bet your goddamn life we'll pass that one.
I say we, because after going through school together and studying together and crying on each other’s shoulders so often, we feel like we are totally in this together. We toasted our hard work over Negro Modelos and tapas at Casa Del Sol last night, and I couldn’t stop saying how glad I was that we went through all this together. I’ll never forget this period in my life.
And about that spa work I mentioned? Penny introduced me to her boss. He’s a very cool, laid-back kind of guy, youngish, with an intelligent face. It’s clear he has the utmost respect for Penny.
However, I didn’t intend to interview there – and I didn’t. I shook the man’s hand, and Penny informed him that she was putting me on the schedule for next Saturday.
“That’s great!” the boss said, “We need people!” I stood there with my mouth open.
“How many massages do you want to give?” Penny asked me, pen and paper in hand.
“No more than two or three, it’s been a few months!” I stammered. “And don’t schedule me before 11:00 – I’ll need time to get lost driving here.”
So, I have my first massage job, in New Jersey, working with a friend, at a nice place. Without even trying.
Last night, after some beer, I asked Penny “Are you sure about this? You weren’t in my Swedish class. You’ve never had a "real" massage from me. You’ve never even worked beside me in clinic. How do you know I don’t suck!?”
“Please, Ouiser,” Penny said. “I know you. I saw your work in clinic, even if I wasn’t standing right next to you. I heard what the clients said about you. I heard what the faculty said about you. And I was in your Shiatsu class, and we did work together there, so I know what you can do. Believe me, I know you don’t suck.”
At the end of the day, what I’m most excited about is having regular clients. I want to develop that intimate relationship with a body, be aware on deeper levels of the conditions this person is dealing with, and learn how best to help them. For me, it’s all about the clients, learning to be a better healer, and scratching that itch I have inside of me to feel like I’m making a difference, however small, in someone’s life. Penny and I talked about that too. “You’re going to fit right in,” she smiled.
It’s amazing how, in the grand scheme of things, how meaningless that 140-question multiple-choice test really is.