Today students we will be discussing assessment. Assessment is that magical time where, after instruction, we assess to see how much was retained. It’s the fancy way of saying “test”.
Assessment can be formal or informal–you can have a sit down test or practical examination or you can assess simply by watching the student perform a given task. In motorcycling we have very, very few formal assessments. Odds are the only formal assessment you’ll ever have is a practical, hands on licensing examination. For you California types that means the Keyhole or Lollipop. For a bunch of us that means the Alternate Motorcycle Operator Skills Test (Alt-MOST). For the rest of you? I do not know. Your state may subject you to anything that they feel requires you to demonstrate basic controls needed to turn you loose with an endorsement.
One of the important things about assessment (especially for licensing purposes) is that there needs to be objective standards. An objective standard is one that has a baseline of some kind that you either can or cannot meet. Getting stopped from Y speed in X feet is a good example. Either you can–or you can’t. There’s nothing subjective about it. Subjective tests are much, much more open to answers. In a subjective test you may be asked to demonstrate understanding but in the evaluation there are more than one correct answer. In other words, instead of stopping from Y speed in X feet you simply are asked to demonstrate appropriate braking skills. What does that mean? It could mean you didn’t crash. It could mean you looked well ahead, used both brakes, didn’t skid either wheel, and didn’t downshift. In fact in a truly subjective test the examiner could look at you and say, “I liked it. You’re good to go.”
For example, I was told a story just last night by a gentleman from a small farming community. At age 7 his father dropped him into the seat of a tractor and said, “Drive.” By 12 he was running loaded trucks from the farm to the grain silos. When he turned 15 he went to the DMV and took the written test. When he walked out to take his driving assessment he recognized the examiner who said, “Andy? What brings you by?”
“Got to get my license.” Andy replied.
“How’d you do on the written?” Asked the examiner.
“100%!” Said Andy.
“Good! Here let me sign you off.” This was confusing to Andy because he wasn’t sure what was going on. He hadn’t taken the practical (driving) test yet. He must have looked confused because the examiner said, “Andy, I’ve been watching you drive for years. I know you and your Dad. You’re good. I’ll just sign it and save the time.
That is a textbook subjective test.
Unfortunately most motorcyclists, especially new ones, do self-assessment. We ride and then we decide, “Damn, I’m good” or “Dude, I suck”. Both these opinions (which is what a subject evaluation is) are generally, completely, dead nuts wrong. Why? First we can be awful, awful judges of ourselves. We may be unduly harsh or ridiculously self inflated and unable to look at ourselves without either bashing or blowing smoke. If you are my age you may have thought velour looked good on you at some point. It didn’t. OR if you’re a little younger you may have fallen victim to a Members Only jacket or (ladies) low rise jeans and a belly shirt.
Assessing yourself cleanly and reasonably is possible. The trick is to use objective standards. If you’ve been out riding and you come home and sit on the couch, crack a beer and say, “I owned that. I am soooo smooth and fast.” How do you know? You felt fast? You really, really felt fast? No, dude, I mean you reeeeeally felt fast.
Who cares? You may be fast. You may be as fast a molasses in January. You might be greased lightening–I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I can’t apply my subjective judgement because of my lack of attendance. You, on the other hand, probably don’t have an objective measure to work with, it’s all about how you felt not how you rode.
In the past few years I have run into a rider or two (often on the web) who are convinced that they are the shizz. That they are stonking around big footing everybody because dude, they’ve been riding almost a year, or a year, or a year and a half and they just know how good they are.
My very first reaction is to smack them in the face. It’s annoying to be told by someone how accomplished they are when odds are they aren’t. My hackles come right up. Back in the day? (And this is pure evil) I would invite folks like that out for a ride and sucker them into nasty corners to scare the piss out of them. A couple of poor outcomes for the other rider and I broke myself of that behavior. Nowadays I type a lot and then delete even more. I bite my tongue. I still want to turn around, pat the tailpiece and give them the finger and then light it up down my favorite road.
Instead I give them objective tests to work with. A few years ago I had a go around with a gentleman in Michigan. It was brutal. In the end he started appearing in every forum I post in. One day he was bragging about his braking skills and claiming he was reaching impending skid with regularity. (Impending skid? Look it up.) I realized that was very, very unlikely. He videotaped himself stopping and all he was doing was skidding the rear wheel. I then gave him objective, nationally recognized standards to use.
He realized he really wasn’t that good at braking.
As much as I like to gloat I didn’t. It was a breakthrough moment for him. He realized he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. False securities were washed away. Skills were improved. He was made safer for the exchange. Things didn’t end well for our internet association but last I checked he is still riding and enjoying himself while braking better due to the exchanges.
Self-assessment is a tough thing. Usually we’re wrong. Take an advanced course. Look up some numbers to work with. Find the objective numbers or the honest, responsible subjective observer. Bottom line is that you’re probably not as good/bad as you think you are. But don’t trust yourself–If you can go out and find a better measuring stick.