“Mathematics, science, being able to use the English language. These tests don’t measure it and they don’t improve it. So why do they exist?” (Leon Botstein, President, Bard College)
Eighty percent of graduating high school students will take the SAT and/or ACT tests. The results may determine the schools they get into. Some students will have tutors that help them boost their scores. In fact, there is an entire industry built around helping people take the test. But do these tests actually measure one’s potential ability for college? The Test and the Art of Thinking attempts to pull back the curtain on the myth and mystique around the SAT and ACT.
The film starts with a historical overview of how nearly a century ago the SAT became a substitute for individual entrance exams for prestigious schools, like the Ivy League. It also was designed to help them find those who might do well, in spite of not having a prep school education. After World War II when college enrollment jumped, it became widely used by other schools looking for those who might excel. But in time, instead of finding diamonds in the rough, the test became a gatekeeper.
As the years passed, some began to question the validity of the test itself. Is there really something there that can measure intelligence or aptitude for college, or does the test provide an irrelevant measurement—essentially measuring the ability to take a test. Yet in spite of the questions about the test, it has become a way of keeping score of our lives and educational institutions.
The film is made up of interviews with a wide range of students, parents, testing experts, and academics. Some of the time we sit in with students being tutored to help them beat the test. Or we hear college admissions officers who talk about how poorly the test measures what they are looking for in students. But at the same time, for colleges to be highly ranked, they have to have high SAT averages. It should be noted that some universities have begun to step away from testing.
The question comes up often: if this test really doesn’t measure what we think it does, why do we keep making people take it. For me this issue is most clearly seen in listening to a group of SAT tutors—people who make money off of training people for the test—talking about how long it has been known (as one of them puts it) that “the emperor has no clothes.” In fact, the very idea that by going to a tutor you can raise your score undermines the very foundation of what the test claims to do—measure innate aptitude. Yet in spite of evidence that the test is not really useful, it continues to be used.
I found this a very interesting examination of something that is an almost universal experience in our society. Almost everyone takes these tests. But to what point? Because of the weight given these tests, they may well affect people’s lives in very important ways. But even though it seems they are flawed and inaccurate, no one can ignore them. And like much of our culture, it seems we will just keep doing it because we always have.
Photos courtesy of Canobie Films