May 22, 2009
Every year thousands, even millions, of kids graduating from high school take a big test called the SAT. That doesn’t really stand for anything, it’s just short for "complete waste of a SATurday", or maybe it’s "you SAT through so many tests one more won’t hurt". The results of anyone’s SAT can determine their future because it’s what colleges look at. Sure, colleges look at things like grades and extracurricular activities. That’s why no one gets beaten up for joining the Chess Team or the Math League or the Physics Gang anymore because your only choices are joining those groups or being condemned to a lifetime of wearing hairnets and scooping fries. Actually that was true even when I was a kid, which was really the only reason I joined the Science Club in my school and took the easiest thing imaginable, rock identification. At least I thought it would be easy. I figured they’d have some gravel on a table along with a piece of styrofoam, a piece of cardboard, maybe a coffee mug, and my job would be to identify the rock. Then I got into my first match and realized I couldn’t tell hematite from galena and yet still came out with a second place ribbon because I correctly identified both of them as rocks.
Nowadays kids and their parents are so worried about doing well on the SAT that they’ll invest thousands of dollars on tutors and study guides and preparatory material that they’ll pretty much guarantee being accepted by the college of their choice even though they won’t be able to afford to go there. And yet a recent study has come out that says that those really expensive tutors don’t really help, that, at most, they raise a student’s SAT score by an average of thirty points. If you’re unfamiliar with the SAT thirty points may sound like a lot, but the maximum score for the whole test is 2,400 points. Heck, you get two hundred points just for being able to spell your name correctly. Unfortunately you can’t get a perfect score just by writing your name twelve-hundred times. Trust me–I tried. And the SAT isn’t the only standardized test. There’s also the ACT. As a kid you might get in trouble if you act up or act out, but the final act is on you. The highest possible score on the ACT is 36. For that one they actually deduct three points if you spell your name correctly. It’s a terrible final joke the public school system plays on students before they graduate. Actually it’s a lesson, and the lesson is: expect the unexpected. Or maybe the lesson is: don’t trust standardized testing. And the tests don’t stop there. The tests keep coming all through college. And if you want to continue your education after you’ve done your four years of college you have to take another test, the GRE. I’m pretty sure the maximum score for the GRE is either twelve or seven million. Anyone who wants to become a doctor has to pass the MCAT, and anyone who wants to be a lawyer has to pass the LCAT. Maybe the lesson here is that life itself is a test, because, let’s face it, even though they may not have clever acronyms, every day there’s another test. Just this morning, for instance, my boss asked me to identify a rock.