Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brain, I Am Disappoint.

I spent most of last week in a PMP Exam Prep “Boot Camp.”

What does any of that mean?  It doesn’t really matter, but the point is that Monday through Thursday found me in one of the big conference rooms at work, surrounded by several of my fellow employees – some of them visiting from other locations specifically for this class – from 8 AM to 6 PM.

For my part, as I’m a creature of habit, that meant putting in four twelve-hour days, as I kept going in to work at the usual time (between 6 and 6:30 AM), and staying a bit after the class ended to wrap up some work things.

It was pretty brutal, and did not make for a happy Jon.  I will get into some of the specifics of my unhappiness a bit later, but the biggest issue I ran into was further evidence of the overall deterioration of my brain.

Most of the class focused on test-taking strategies and mnemonic devices and tricks for being able to pass the exam without requiring the twelve to eighteen months of preparation that most people put into taking it.  Ideally, I would have had the exam scheduled on Friday (again, more on that in a bit), but things didn’t work out that way.  Even so, once I take the exam, and if I pass it, I will have done so much more rapidly than most people.

In any case, the problem for me was that, in general, my test-taking “strategy” has always been pretty simple:  I just walk in knowing whatever it is I’m being tested on.  It’s a strategy that has served me well over the years.

Or at least it did before my brain turned into some sort of mush that is no longer capable of retaining information.

The only “information” that my brain seems to be able to hold onto with any consistency these days is the words to crappy pop songs that I’ve heard once or twice (if they’re recent), or that I haven’t heard in 20+ years.  That and Simpsons quotes.

Because I never had any need for them, I’ve never been big on using mnemonic devices or any other sort of memory tricks, so I’m not terribly adept at using them now.  Besides, how am I supposed to remember the information that a given mnemonic device represents when my memory is so shot that I can’t even remember the mnemonic device itself?  “Let’s see, there’s a mnemonic device for remembering the names of the Great Lakes.  ….what was it again?  HOUSES?  APARTMENTS?  Dammit, brain!”

(I’m kidding with that specific example, btw.)

I’m not looking back on my past academic performance through rose-colored glasses, either.  The fact is, my brain used to be amazing.  It was like a sponge.  Often it seemed like I learned things through osmosis.  Its ability to absorb and retain information with minimal effort dovetailed nicely with my laziness.

But now it just…wait, what was I talking about again?

Anyway, the whole class was about “leading with strategy” rather than “leading with knowledge,” which was problematic, because leading with knowledge has always been my strategy.

Still, setting aside my brain’s former glories, the fact of the matter was that I did, in fact, develop test-taking strategies that I used to complement my knowledge base over the years, and most of the strategy stuff that the instructor talked about was the kind of stuff I already do when it comes to taking tests.  So where I was running into trouble on the practice exams wasn’t with getting caught up in all of the test-taking traps he was trying to teach us to avoid, it was just plain failing to remember the material at all.  I mean, the strategy can only go so far.  You have to have some basic amount of knowledge retained in your melon in order to do anything beyond simply guessing.

By the end of the boot camp, I did bring my practice scores up to a point where there’s a slim chance that I could pass the exam, proving that my brain isn’t entirely useless, particularly given that, for a variety of reasons, I got a pretty late start on actually preparing for the class.  So not all hope is lost.  Just most of it, since apparently, I if I want to actually pass the exam, I’ll have to engage in that whole thing where you go over the material over and over again in an effort to retain information the way I used to be able to do with minimal effort.  That thing that other people did in order to be able to score well on tests.  What’s it called?  Studying?

Something like that.  All I know is that the whole thing reeks of effort.

The one promising thing to note was that, regardless of how I actually end up performing, I’m still very quick when it comes to taking tests, because I read fast and don’t agonize.  I know the material or I don’t.  I don’t waste time when I know that all I can do is make a guess.

Beyond spending the time wishing that I still had the brain I had when I was a full-time student, I just plain did not like the class.  Part of it was ridiculous hours, a big part of it was an instant personal dislike of the instructor, part of it was the fact that it was a brutal week following on the heels of the two previous brutal weeks at work, but the biggest part was the entire methodology of the class, which drew heavily on classic cult techniques.

People laughed when I would encounter them around the building on our rare – and brief – breaks from class and I would tell them, in response to their questions about how the class  was going, that it was like a cult, but while I was seeing the humor in it, I wasn’t joking.

Seriously, if they had been trying to indoctrinate me into a system of belief based on the idea that there’s a spaceship hiding behind a comet rather than trying to prepare me to take a professional certification exam, they would have used the exact same techniques.

  • Near-total isolation from the outside world
  • An insistence that they had all the answers that I was looking for and that their way was the best way
  • Only those who are properly initiated into the mystery may be privy to the secret knowledge
  • Special “relaxation techniques”
  • An unrelenting effort to wear down your resistance through things like repetition and a rigid structure
  • A special diet (lunches and snacks were provided)

Even little things like having two instructors – one male, one female – came straight from the cult brainwashing playbook.

To be fair – and I don’t say this to denigrate the military – it was supposed to be a “boot camp,” and there is more than a little overlap between the techniques used in cults and those used in military boot camps, but while there was no obviously nefarious intent, it was still more than a little disconcerting once I made the realization.

And it did make sense; after all, the idea was to “program” you into a different way of thinking in an effort to maximize your ability to pass the exam.  Still, it was troubling.  And annoying.  Particularly the isolation aspect, which was managed through the very short (five minutes) breaks.

Other than that, I was annoyed by the fact that even with ten hours to work with – and sometimes more, as we ran late more than once – they couldn’t manage to cover the complete daily agenda.

I was also annoyed by a lot of the standard training techniques that were presented as being somehow revolutionary.  “This is an unconventional training class,” the male lead instructor asserted on day one.  I found myself thinking, “Hmm…I already hate it and you.  Seems pretty conventional to me.”

After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo.  In the five years I worked in the NOC at AOL, I took a lot of training classes, as they represented easy overtime opportunities.  I’ve encountered pretty much every “unconventional” training technique there is.

For example, on Tuesday morning I thought, “I’ll bet they’re going to pull some stupid horseshit like making us switch seats today.”


Of course, it doesn’t help matters any that I have a bad attitude in general, I suppose, and it especially didn’t help that I think that the whole exam thing is rather asinine, as there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through just to be able to sign up – and pay for – taking the damn test.

Said hoops represented the only thing that actually was unconventional about the class.  Most exam prep “boot camps” that I’ve taken, such as the one I just did back in December, end with you taking the actual test on the last day, on-site.  Because of the way the exam is administered, that wasn’t possible with this one.  Ideally, you would have scheduled your exam, at an off-site testing center, for the Friday right after the class, but that’s dependent on you jumping through the aforementioned hoops in advance of actually taking the class.

I have since jumped through all* of the hoops, and will be able to schedule the exam at some point, but, again, it’s apparent that, thanks to my non-functioning brain, I will have to engage in a lot of additional preparation for it.

I ended up taking Friday off anyway, and also Monday, as, after a string of long, brutal weeks, I needed a break.

The title of this post, by the way is, appropriately enough, a variation on an Internet meme.

*Assuming my application for eligibility to take the exam isn’t subjected to a random audit.  Seriously, that can, and does, happen.

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

You reminded me of Bender in this post.

"You mean I have to do two things?"