Test Prep

The Weekly Standard on the SAT

Andrew Ferguson has written a very interesting article about the SAT I. Excerpts:

One Saturday morning this month, a quarter million kids or more will slump their way into the fluorescent tomb of a high school classroom, slide into the seat of a flimsy polypropylene combo chair-desk, and then, with clammy palms dampening the shafts of perfectly sharpened number two pencils, they will take the SAT. They will carefully mark only one answer for each question, as instructed, and they will make sure to fill the entire circle darkly and completely. They will not make any stray marks on their answer sheet. If they erase, they will do so completely, because incomplete erasures may be scored as intended answers. They will not open their test book until the supervisor tells them to do so, and if they finish before time is called, they will not turn to any other section of the test. And over the next three hours they will determine the course of the rest of their lives.

At least that's what a lot of them will think they're doing. They'll be wrong, of course--dozens of people have gone on to live happy and healthy lives after bombing the SAT--but they won't know it because an oddly large number of powerful forces in American society have combined to elevate the SAT to unlikely heights of influence and to impute to it unimaginable powers. You'll hear the SAT can wreck a person's future, even if only temporarily, or salvage a new future from a misspent past. The SAT can enforce class hierarchies or break them open; it unfairly allocates society's spoils and sorts the population into haves and have-nots, or it can unearth intellectual gifts that our nation's atrocious high schools have managed to keep buried. It is a tool of understanding, a cynical hoax, a triumph of social science, a jackboot on the neck of the disadvantaged. But rarely is it just a test . . .

. . . Inevitably, I suppose, the demotion of the SAT and what it represents begins to carry a whiff of the same postmodernism that has overtaken the humanities in most elite colleges. We shouldn't be surprised if it's seeped through the ventilators and under the door jambs into the admissions office next door. An attack on the traditional notion of aptitude is also an attack on one long-standing and widely accepted notion of what higher education is for, as a place where academic excellence is pursued both for its own sake and as a preparation for life. If higher ed is not defined this way it's hard to see what it will be defined by--beyond the whims of school presidents and progressive deans. But maybe that's the whole idea.

In my humble opinion, the SAT I has long ago proven to be a badly conceived and applied measure of readiness for college. It has left many wonderfully talented and capable young people in circumstances that they didn't deserve. all based on the flaws in this cash-cow instrument. What do you think of the SAT?

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.