Review: SAT and ACT flunk out in documentary ‘The Test & the Art of Thinking’

Michael Arlen Davis’ briskly informative, convincing documentary “The Test & the Art of Thinking” takes aim at those gantlets of supposed aptitude measurement, the SAT and ACT (originally, the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Testing, respectively; now known by their acronyms). We know they’re an all-important part of most four-year college entrance requirements, but do they reflect a student’s true exposure to education? Or are they just inflated obstacles with little to say about future academic performance or professional success?

Davis interviews students, teachers, parents, academics and tutors, and finds only more grounds for controversy — including the exams’ encroaching effect on what gets taught in high school (spoiler: whatever’s in the test) — than real answers about their value.

Because what started in the 1920s as a queasily noble barometer of academic worthiness and intellectual equity for top-tier East Coast colleges has morphed into a readily gamed crucible, one more likely to measure parents’ pocketbook dedication, and a college’s fear of its ranking slipping, than students’ ability to think and flourish. And for smart kids from cash-strapped, disenfranchised communities, the pricey prep market erected around these gateway tests only adds to the sense that there’s another higher-education barrier tied to race and class.


Most sobering in Davis’ film is the assembled confab of prep tutors sharing their unvarnished thoughts about the College Board’s pointless, periodical test fixes, practically cackling at how easily the board’s self-importance has kept them in business. One is left hoping someday that universities, in re-assessing whether the SAT and ACT are meaningful admissions gauges, pick “none of the above.”


‘The Test & The Art of Thinking’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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