Aptitude (Old-Dog-New-Trick Update)

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Briefly: I’ve been practicing touch-typing for the past two days. I am rediscovering that I am amazingly clumsy. I actually was tested for aptitudes when I was 16, and one of the things I scored lowest in was “manual dexterity.” I had been a model-builder before that (1920s and ’30s cars were my favorite, but tanks and airplanes too—my best friend Mark and I used to build models together in his basement, complaining about the music his little sister was playing in the next room over), and that made the light go on—ah, so that’s why I have so much trouble with so many things when I was modeling. I promptly gave up model making. Why do something for which you have little aptitude? It makes more sense to do things you’re good at.

It probably explains why the model N-gauge train layout I was making had one little tiny area that was beautifully finished with scenery and buildings, and the rest was plain plywood for the next four years, till we moved.

Plus, I have a weird brain. I learn visually. When I just have touch to go on, I’m pretty lost. In a way that feels disconcertingly permanent. Two days of typing seven letters and I apparently still don’t know where the confounded “R” is. It’s very stressful. If I just look down, my speed all but doubles. It actually might make more sense to me to look while learning and then gradually allow myself to stop looking. That goes against that standard advice. But it’s what I did with my current method, and I barely look at all.

Anyway, I’ll update you in a few months. But wish me luck; I need it. You’ll know when I switch over to touch-typing all the time because the posts will get super-short for a while.

(By the way, the three-day program of aptitude tests, which cost a lot of money at the time, ended with three recommendations for me as far as a future career was concerned: writer, photographer, or forester. Two out of three ain’t bad, eh?)


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Featured Comments from:

Nick: “I have never taken such an in-depth aptitude test, but I’m sure that my manual dexterity score would cause the person scoring the test to look on the back of the rubric sheet to see if it included negative numbers. Every single career test I ever took, though, pointed me toward ‘scientist’ or ‘mathematician,’ though they would occasionally drop in the odd ‘auto mechanic’ and the like (indicating the absence of the manual dexterity test…). As little credit as I give such tests, I’ve been a professional scientist for a quarter of a century and I have a degree in math as well. Of course, I knew I wanted to be a scientist since I was three years old (scientist parent + ‘space and dinosaurs are cool!’ —> adult chemist who still kinda wishes he had studied paleontology or astronomy), so I definitely cannot promise that my thumb wasn’t on the scale when I was taking them.”

Mike replies: I always wondered about that “thumb on the scale.” I was very into the outdoors as a kid, camping, hiking, Boy Scouts, horseback riding, pack trips, wilderness Summer camp, etc., and I wonder if I skewed the results of the test to allow them to come up with “forester.” Curiously, I chose Dartmouth partially because of all the outdoors activities, went on a fantastic week-long initiation trip as a freshman, loved it, then never went camping again. I never have been able to explain that, to myself or anyone else.

By the way I took Paleontology in eighth grade and also loved that. One of the best courses I ever took at any level, from one of the best teachers, Elizabeth (Beth) Sieckman. (I hope I spelled that right.) Mrs. Sieckman also taught me how to write, by assigning a paper every single day, grading them on a 1–10 scale, and being famously resistant to giving out 10s.


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