In 1983, shortly after my graduation from college, I invested two days in Johnson O’Connor’s aptitude testing program. It was one of the best investments I ever made.

One of my test results was low clerical skill, which may account for why I almost immediately lost the paper copy of my testing results, but I recently unearthed the tape of the debriefing session. In an interesting exercise in anachronism, I switched it to digital form and listened to it on my iPhone. As painful as it was to hear myself in all my floundering youth, it was engaging enough to prompt me to order another paper copy. Really, though, I have always remembered the high and low scores, which are all that fundamentally matter. I am thankful to have discovered at an early age that I have virtually no aptitude for number checking and filing, more thankful still that the computer revolution, almost unforeseen in 1983, gave me such powerful tools to make up for this inherent weakness. Thirty years later, I am thankful for every hour I did not spend in frustrated failure at clerical tasks.

The high scores have been even more useful. In particular, I tested very high in Ideaphoria, which is basically the speed at which ideas occur to me. I did not realize that everyone is not like this, and perhaps I never would have. Largely because of my testing I went into education, and when given the opportunity I always opted to teach different classes instead of multiple sections of the same class. If I teach 20 classes a week and each one has three activities, that requires 60 ideas a week. No problem. I quickly realized that many tasks that demand a rapid flow of ideas, such as brainstorming topics for a school newsletter or coming up with a list of possible paper topics or fundraising proposals, are easy for me, and I feel that I am asking myself to do what my brain was designed to do.

The Johnson O’Connor emphasis on vocabulary has also been a focus of my professional and personal development. As an English teacher, I have become very familiar with the ridiculous ways most teachers attempt to introduce new words, and the concept of a frontier of new words that students are ready to learn has generated several initiatives in my school to promote individualized vocabulary programs, typically incorporating the Johnson O’Connor vocabulary wordbook series as well as other methods. There are no activities more useful for students than the mastery of new words.

As a professional educator, I am very familiar with ongoing discussions about talent and intelligence, debates that include Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, Mel Levine’s neurodevelopmental constructs, Carol Dweck’s understanding of the “growth” intelligence mindsets, and the famous studies of the importance of 10,000 hours of practice popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Coyle, and others. I recognize that the Johnson O’Connor Foundation has been in this business long before it was popular.

As a teacher, my goal has always been to help students recognize what lights up their minds as well as the challenges they face and the available strategies for working with weaknesses. While I believe that ultimately nothing is an important as effort, I am also sure that everyone benefits from knowing as much as possible about the construction of his or her individual mind and body. Learning about one’s aptitudes should be a primary focus of education, and its present neglect is deeply misguided.

The Oracle at Delphi famously encouraged the suppliant to “know thyself.” Johnson O’Connor testing helped me to gain personal insight that has helped me throughout my career, and in the navigation of my life.

Huntington Lyman Ph.D.
Academic Dean
The Hill School

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