Saturday, November 3, 2007


One of the few things in life at which I excel is standardized testing. It actually runs in the Monkey family, so maybe there is some yet-to-be-mapped test-taking gene. Papa Monkey got the highest score in chemistry in all of Taiwan when he took his college entrance exam. And Brother Monkey got a perfect score on the SAT, perfect scores on at least three SAT Subject Tests, and a score of 5 on over a dozen AP exams. He ended up leaving high school after his junior year to go straight to college.

All I can say is that I'm glad Brother Monkey is my younger brother, so his mind-blowing feats took place a good four years after my own scores, which we all thought were damn good until we witnessed the overwhelming perfection of Brother Monkey.

I still remember my dad teaching me about ratios when I was in third grade, and I just didn't get them. I was seven. My dad lost his patience and called Brother Monkey over, and -- wouldn't you know it -- my tiny three-year-old brother understood ratios, and I didn't. Humiliating. Other three-year-olds are praised for knowing their colors. My brother could work with advanced fractions. It's tough to shine when you're related to someone like Brother Monkey.

Or Papa Monkey, for that matter. Papa Monkey grew up with nothing. He was literally dirt poor and lived in a little shack with his two older brothers and mother in a small backward village in Southern Taiwan. He didn't have shoes until high school. There was one phone in the whole village. Papa Monkey's mother had only a fourth-grade education and worked at the local sugar cane factory. She raised her three sons all by herself, as Papa Monkey's father died when Papa Monkey was only one year old. Papa Monkey excelled at school, eventually became a doctor, and immigrated to the U.S. I should dig out one of my old college essays. It chronicled my father's path to becoming an American. It was quite the lovely read for having been composed by an angst-ridden 16-year-old. And it got me into college.

The Monkey parents are a demanding pair. Sometimes, Brother Monkey and I wonder how we turned out as normal as we did under all the academic pressure. (Or, perhaps, we are both kidding ourselves, thinking we are normal.)

Home life was especially hard on me because I'm not as smart as my brother or my dad, but I guess the high expectations ultimately did me a lot of good. I don't think I'd be where I am today had I not been pushed so hard. It's not like I'd be flipping burgers (not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there's anything wrong with that), but I certainly don't think I would've gone to the schools I did.

Dude, this intro got out of control. And totally off-topic. Verbal diarrhea strikes again.


Lack of total perfection notwithstanding, I'm rather proficient with tests involving vocabulary, so I was quite interested to see just how far I could go before being stumped by Free Rice, which my friend Jen sent to me. For every word you define correctly, Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program.

Although I rarely read these days (anything non-legal, that is), I was quite the voracious little bookworm in my younger days. My brother and I depleted the children's and juvenile sections of not one, but two local libraries, so my mother had to drive us to a farther larger library to quench our thirst for knowledge. (Argh. Academic Gatorade, anyone?)

Years later, I majored in English and American Literature and Language. I also taught an SAT verbal prep course one summer. My students liked to pick random words from their vocabulary book to see if they could find a word I didn't know.

They didn't succeed the entire summer.

Below are the words I correctly and successively defined on Free Rice. Pictured are the words that were remarkably applicable to me. I really got a kick out of them! (Click to enlarge if you don't know or can't see the definitions!)





Then the grains stopped at "cuisse." Damn you, cuisse! Apparently, "cuisse" means "thigh armor." Thanks, Free Rice! I'll be sure to try to work in "cuisse" into my regular vocabulary from now on.

If opposing counsel doesn't shut up, he will need a cuisse to protect himself from my stabbing his leg with my makeshift pen shiv.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, while I knew most of the words above, I did guess on a few, but that, my friends, is part of the useless Monkey talent when it comes to taking standardized tests. I have a knack for roots -- Latin, Greek, you name it -- which definitely helps. And when ETS scored my SAT, they sure as hell didn't know I made some damn good guesses.

So there you go. I donated 240 grains and stopped at vocab level 45.

Ok, I lied. I didn't stop.

I kept playing some more and got up to level 46, but then I got stumped again by "odalisque," which means "female slave." I guess I'm glad I don't know that word.

I won't be incorporating it into my daily speech either.


  1. WOW! That website is addicting!

  2. fek. i wrote a longass treatise on how we must have shared ancestry. my crappy wireless ate it. hmph. i'll email you later instead.

  3. I used to be a bookworm in my younger days, too. Now I read trash like US Weekly and other gossip rags.

  4. My childhood library experience was exactly the same as yours...we were probably reading the exact same books. :-)

    What a fun website. I'll have to check it out. I love vocabulary.

  5. Naturally I have many things to say about this post. I had no idea that you were a Lit/Language major! Did you take any linguistics classes? I was on the Linguistics track when I got my BA but switched to Lit for grad school. I have also played the rice game and loved it. I have a huge love for roots as well. Okay, stopping now.

  6. WOW.

    I am so impressed by your standardized testing skills and vocabulary. Whatever gene you have, I most definitely do not have it.

  7. I just read the whole thing - you scare me. But, I'm more in awe of you now than ever.

  8. You're kinda nuts, but in a good way. I love reading (still do), but I have a crap sense of vocab. I'll have to check this game out.

  9. btw - I'm goimg to go try this game. Do they really give the rice to the meedy? I hope it's mot a hoax!

  10. My reading experience is almost the same as Valley Girl, except for my childhood reads were mainly Vietnamese books due to my dad's obsession of preventing me to adapt to American culture, and now I read a whole lot more magazines...and blogs.

    Bow down to the superior academic gene. I, too, have a younger brother almost like yours, but he's 10 years younger. So what I lack in academics, I make it up in (shitty) experience :)

  11. damn you! I only got to 38!! I kept getting pissed off and closing it out, only to try again a few minutes later. There are at least a few full bellies now, thanks to me... and you, too.

    Super smart monkey! Bananas all around.

  12. I wish you had been my verbal SAT prep teacher. It would have been a lot more fun, I bet... ::off to play the rice game!::

  13. impressive.

    i love to read (always have, probably always will), but my vocab isn't all that stellar. eh. what can i say, i had my nose stuck in science text books for most of my high school/collegiate years.

  14. Wow, I'm very impressed with your standardized testing prowess - is that the right word? I am a terrible test taker, which makes me a good teacher, I think anyhow :)

  15. Oops, I also wanted to say thanks for sharing the story about your father. Very inspiring!

  16. valley girl and i are twins.

    kind of like how your dad and my mom share very similar beginnings. although my mom isn't a doctor. um, and not from taiwan.

    hmm. i'm not making any sense at all.


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