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Origin of TESTS and TESTING

Tests are as old as humanity. These tests primarily have resulted out of four questions that have haunted us ever since homosapiens inhabited the Earth. The first question in this regard is whether one is guilty or not? For this purpose a test was designed wherein the suspected liar is led into a dark tent. Inside there is a donkey, whose tail has been coated in lamp oil. The man is told to pull on the donkey’s tail. If he is liar, the man is told, pulling the donkey’s tail will cause it to scream. The man is left alone with the animal and after a while brought back out of the tent. It doesn’t matter if the donkey screamed or not, the evidence is on the man’s hands. If they are clean it proves his guilt as he didn’t touch the donkey’s tail, and according to the inventors of this test, you can tell a liar by his fear of being found out.

Next question is to judge the candidate’s ability the test of which has its origin in the Agricultural Revolution that dates back to 12,000 years ago when this question gained prominence. We know from early documentation of initiation rites, trails of courage and inauguration ceremonies that joining a community often involved passing a test. The idea of judging humans based on merit rather than heredity originated in China. Around AD 600, the Sui dynasty established the imperial examinations, for recruiting bureaucrats- a mixture of army physical, rote learning and little puzzles. For example, in the final exam, candidates had to drink strong liquor and then compose a poem.

A major question that has perturbed mankind is about their individuality. The question ‘who am I’ some anthropologists believe, can be attributed to Scientific Revolution that dates back 500 years ago. First attempt at describing person based on her/his personality was made in ancient Greece. It is recorded that when you were both literally and figuratively at your wit’s end in Ancient Greece, you would consult an oracle. The most famous and popular oracle was the one in Delphi- despite or because of the fact that instead of giving clear answer, he would recite enigmatic verses that usually only made sense once the future had come to pass. Over the entrance of temple of Delphi where the oracle lived, there was an inscription: “Know Yourself”.

In the recent past the question that tests have dealt with is ‘how good am I’ which started around the Industrial Revolution. During Scientific Revolution and the onset of Information Revolution, our obsession with analysing ourselves is not just restricted to our personalities or careers, but is increasingly also extending to our physical performance. Self-tracking from calories’ consumption, to blood pressure, to the number of steps we take a day is an indication of how we humans obsessively want to know “How good we are?”

In short, human is nothing more than a constantly self-evaluating and judging species. We constantly aim to evaluate the world around us and question the need of our own existence. We also like to constantly pass judgement on everything and everyone around us, like the book we bought from the market, the service in any hotel, the candidate on talent show or the posts of our friends on various social media sites. And we immediately publish our “Score” in the form of an online comment. Data being the dictator of the modern world, coupled with our genetic inclination towards measurability, tests or assessments have become the real oracle of our modern world.

– Saurabh Rana

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