If you’ve been following the news at all recently you probably have heard about the new SAT which debuted today making millions of high school students sit for 4 hours this morning slaving through harder math, a 25 minute writing essay, but thankfully no analogies.
I was one of those high school students.
The first part was the Essay, the part that’s gotten all the attention. It has been a little controversial because doing well on the SAT Essay doesn’t mean you know how to write well. To do well on the SAT Essay, test-prep companies say, you need to fill at least 1.5 of the 2 pages with writing, have 5 paragraphs (intro, three supporting examples, conclusion) and use big vocabulary words. As I opened up the test booklet this morning ready for an essay on some abstract topic like “Do you think most people learn from their mistakes?” I was stunned.
The prompt (italicized quotation) was from Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I read Csikszentmihalyi’s other book Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience over Christmas. So, I dominated the essay (which asked whether nurturing creativity should be higher on the world’s agenda), made references to Csikszentmihalyi’s teachings at Claremont, and cited his other book. What luck.
From there, it was tons of sentence completion, error ID, math, and the like. Going into the test, I had studied some with the Princeton Review Online because while my PSAT scores predicted very high verbal scores (high 600’s/low 700’s) my math scores were dismal. Reflecting on today I still don’t think I’m very good at standardized tests.
During the test, I had to correct the proctor three times on how much time we had left on the section because he couldn’t read a hand clock and I was using a digital stopwatch on my watch. Around me, cheating was rampant but no one does anything because if you report a cheating incident they void all tests in the room. And no one wants that.
I have strong objections to standardized testing and how people look at it as a “smarts” test when really it’s a “how rich are you to be able to prepare/get coached for the test” examination. The math sections are mostly tricks and traps and the verbal sections test vocabulary that the average human being would only see if they read the dictionary as a hobby. It promotes alarming attitudes among high school students and to that end I sincerely hope more colleges vent their frustration with it (like the UC system did) or not accept scores at all (like many are starting to do).