In the very early days of the agency the Peace Corps had a set of Placement Tests that applicants were required to take. One was a 30-minute General Aptitude Test, another a 30-minute Modern Language Aptitude Test. One-hour achievement tests in French and Spanish were also offered during the second hour. The tests were ‘non-competitive; there were no passing or failing grades. The results, the agency said, were used to help find the most appropriate assignment for the person. Of course, those of us who took the tests had no confidence that that was ever done, given the assignments we finally got.
The General Aptitude Test was composed of three different types of problems: verbal, mathematical, and spatial. The verbal questions require an applicant to select from five alternatives the synonym for a given word. The mathematical questions call for one to solve a problem, stated in a sentence or two, using processes generally taught in secondary school mathematics. The spatial problems consist of pictures of piles of blocks and require one to judge the number of blocks needed to make up the pile. Many of the piles included blocks which could not be seen in the picture but whose presence could be inferred from the position of the other blocks.
The Modern Language Aptitude Test was designed to provide an indication of one’s probable degree of success in learning to speak and to understand a foreign language. One’s score on this test depended to some extent on the knowledge of English vocabulary, but the test also measured sound-symbol association ability, sensitivity to grammar structure, and the rote memory aspect of the learning of foreign languages.
The French and Spanish Tests were designed to test mastery of grammar and vocabulary and one’s reading comprehension ability.
Interestingly the Peace Corps allowed the press, radio, television, etc. to have access to the test. Reporters, for example, were allowed into the test rooms at the beginniing of the session, for the first ten minutes. And, if they wanted to take the test, they could.
The “Peace Corps Tests” were at first given in post offices around the country. I took it in 1961 while in graduate school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Later, in 1964, when working for the Peace Corps and doing “Blitz Recruiting” the tests were given during the week Recruiters were on college campuses. The tests were usually administrated by a “Peace Corps secretary’ who went on these recruiting trips–those were the days when the Peace Corps had secretaries–and not by any of us, i.e., RPCVs!
In another blog or two, I’ll reprint some of the sample questions from the placement tests and you can see if you would have made it into the Peace Corps!