According to the College Board, the Accuplacer “is a suite of tests that quickly, accurately, and efficiently assesses reading, writing, math, and computer skills.” It’s used to place students in the proper courses, and to determine if preliminary non-credit courses are necessary before taking college level credit-courses. More on this later.
In 2010, going to college was the farthest thing from my mind. I already had a great job with a promising future, so I had no need, or any desire to go to college. There was plenty of opportunity for growth and promotion with my current career. Yet, it was the prospect of that very promotion that serendipitously served as the siren call to law school, which meant… I needed to go to college after all. Hmm. Let’s give this a little perspective.
I used to love school, until the 2nd grade. Then, I hated it. I hated homework, I hated sitting in the classroom, bored, daydreaming, entertaining myself by chewing erasers and probing the machinations of my insatiable imagination with enduringly strange conceptions. Teachers began to resent me because I was less of a pupil and more of distraction. I only ever got A’s in music (and sometimes gym), and on the rare occasion I got a B in an academic subject I didn’t care anyway. School meant nothing to me; it was torture. I hated school, sucked at it, and so the years ticked by.
When I was 12 I left my mom’s, who didn’t hold me to any sort of standard when it came to school. I went to go live with my father, who did. All of a sudden I was expected to do homework and get good grades, but by then (7th grade) it was too little, too late. My disdain for school had already ossified. Even when forced to do homework and take school seriously, I was still closer to F than I was to B. My heart just wasn’t in it. I was convinced that I didn’t need school, because I was gonna be a rock star, like Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons (yes, seriously). I got closer than many. I was in a fairly successful band in the 90’s. Here’s a pic of the Stone Pony marquee from June of 2016, when my band, Blackfeet, held a 20-year reunion show, and another pic of us after the show. Our kids were in the audience! It was a blast.
So anyway, I managed to squeak through high school, and I grajeeated in 1994, convinced that music was my ultimate destiny. There were around 135 students in my graduating class. Because I was more concerned with letting everybody know how much of an antiestablishmentarian I was than I was with actually learning anything, I graduated somewhere around 120th (maybe lower).
It’s kind of difficult to learn when you think you already know it all (a frailty that still abides). Now, I’m not saying that somebody can’t graduate at the bottom of their class and also be bright. But I am saying that class rank and academic performance meant about as much to me as the price of tea in China. I walked off that school property with absolutely zero plans to ever step foot into another classroom again. Free at last!
And here I found myself, 16 years later, with a passion kindled inside my breast about something academic and cerebral; a desire borne to immerse myself into the arts of philosophy, justice, persuasion, rhetoric, and jurisprudence; pining to engage the law I was studying on a deeper level – not just to perform well on a promotional exam, but to understand it, and maybe even use it to shape the way our society functions. I knew absolutely nothing about law school though. The LSAT? What? Heck, I knew basically nothing at all about anything collegiate, nonetheless graduate school. I googled “law school” and found out that you don’t go to law school without first earning an undergraduate degree. Well, well, well… I’m stepping foot back into another classroom after all.
By 2012 I was ready to begin earning that undergrad degree. My Police Academy time would be recognized by Ocean County Community College in the form of 17 credits. I applied, matriculated, and was now the proud owner of a student ID number. With 17 credits already under my belt, so long as they went towards a degree in Criminal Justice, I was on my way to law school. However, first things first.
To register for classes, I had to take the college placement test, à la the Accuplacer. I wasn’t concerned about the English reading/writing portion. From years of studying the Bible and theology I was already well-versed at reading and writing. Also, studying for the promotional exam had gotten me into some dense material, so my reading and writing skills were sharp. But… B.U.T… there was the math. Ah, the math.
Remember my stint in high school? Bottom 10% of my class? Welp, the last math class I took was in 1993, where I learned (and have since forgotten) how to balance a checkbook. Here’s a summary of my mathematics education in a word: insufficient. I needed to go to summer school to pass Algebra 1, and did everything I could to avoid Algebra 2. Honestly, I don’t know how I graduated.
I scheduled my Accuplacer test for August of 2012, I bought an Accuplacer test prep book, and I began teaching myself basic algebra. The results? College level English: PASS. Elementary Algebra: FAIL, by one point! Meh. Press on!
Putting off math, I started my college coursework, taking ENG151, which is basically English Composition. I got an A. I was now not only the proud owner of a student ID number, but I was also the proud owner of my first college A.
Okay, thanks for coming along that little journey with me. Now, to the point of this post.
THIS WEEK! Oh, what a week. What a confidence booster. I feel great, and I’m reenergized for LifeBeginsat48. Here’s why. I’ve since changed majors from Criminal Justice to Liberal Arts so that I can transfer a full Associates Degree to Rutgers to study Philosophy, and I’m almost at the end of my tenure at Ocean County College. Part of that change included abandoning the 17 credits awarded for my time at the Police Academy, which meant I had to earn the full 64 credits the old fashioned way. I’m almost there. However, I still owe my mandatory mathematics course/s! I couldn’t put this off any longer. I had to retake the Accuplacer, and I had to beat it. My timeline was on the line.
(Sidenote) – LifeBeginsat48 is a timeline, and so many little pieces have to fall into place. When one of those pieces doesn’t make it into its intended time slot, a lot of dominoes have to be reset. Too many missed deadlines, and LifeBeginsat48 becomes LifeBeginsat49, and so on. Check out the 7-year plan.
Yes, you are a very smart audience, and you’ve probably gathered by now that I passed the algebra Accuplacer. Check it… I finished up with the 2017 Spring semester, and in the ensuing ten days I taught myself enough algebra to kill this test. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, factoring, and evaluating polynomials and radicals, working with absolute values, translating word problems into algebraic expressions, drilling PEMDAS into my brain, memorizing powers and square roots, and practicing these skills upwards of six hours a day, I pulled it off. In fact, I not only pulled off a passing score (76), but I knocked it out of the park (108). I was encouraged by testing center staff to take the college level math Accuplacer to test into pre-calc. Pffffffffft. Pre-calc? Moi? Ehhhh, no thanks. I’m a Liberal Arts major, homeslice, not an Astrophysicist. Anyway, that’s why I’m so pumped. One more timely piece of LifeBeginsat48 checked off the list. One small step for a typical high school graduate, one giant step for Ricky Ricardo.
And here’s the most exciting and encouraging part of it. My Lucy? Well, she was genuinely surprised that I passed the test. Nobody in this wide world knows me better than my Lucy. She knows how hard I go at something when I want it. She also knows that I haven’t mathed in 25 years, and now I needed to math again, and math well enough to pass the Accuplacer. Though she is an incredible encouragement to me in my many endeavors, she is also a realist. Her expectations are oftentimes more grounded in reality than mine are. My supportive, encouraging wife, who is familiar with my competence and grit, expected that I would not pass this test. She expected, rationally so, that I was biting off more than I could chew. I may not have surprised myself, but sometimes I’m delusional, so I can’t always trust myself when it comes to myself. But I surprised my Lucy, and that’s something to write home about. This is a crazy plan, and a big dream. I’m often ask myself, “What the ____ are you thinking?” But moments like this one encourage me to press on. Maybe, just maybe, we can pull this off.