Two Saturdays ago, I, along with tens of thousands of other high school juniors, awoke with butterflies in my stomach, reviewed the definitions of "lachrymose" and "inchoate" as I choked down a power breakfast, and double-checked the batteries in my calculator. Clutching my freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils, I filed into a large, unwelcoming classroom, took a seat, said a prayer to the College Board, opened my test booklet and took my first SAT.
On the face of it, there was nothing unusual about this particular day. Generations of over-caffeinated high school students have sat in these same halls, trying to remember the Uniform Motion Formula and sensing their college prospects slipping away as they struggle to stay awake through some of the most excruciatingly dull reading passages ever written.
But my group of test takers had a dubious distinction, one that set us apart from those who have taken the SAT before us and those who will take it in years to come. We were taking a test that, just three days prior, had been declared by the organization that administers it to be flawed because it a) tests antiquated vocabulary, b) presents artificial obstacles, c) disadvantages those who cannot afford expensive preparatory courses, d) is a poor predictor of college readiness and success, or e) causes "unproductive anxiety" among high school students. (Correct answer: all of the above.)
Unproductive anxiety? Tell me about it. It's hard enough to take the SAT under normal conditions; try taking it immediately after the College Board's president, David Coleman, has proclaimed: "It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming."
Tricks? I've studied them all. Cramming? My middle name.
I have spent hours pushing through vocabulary, practicing math problems and learning all the ins and outs of every unnatural and forced grammatical rule ever created. I have my own analysis of exactly what is unfair about the SAT: It tests test-taking, not genuine skill or knowledge. In the hopes of getting a good score, I've had to take time away from my actual course work to study material that has virtually no practical application in my life.
While a new and better SAT may be coming, it has not yet arrived. The College Board's revised exam won't make an appearance until 2016. That leaves the graduating class of 2015 — my class — and the class of 2016 no option but to take a test whose shortcomings have been acknowledged by the very people who created it. It also raises a question for college admissions officers: How should they weigh a prospective student's performance on a tainted test?
It's unrealistic to think that the College Board could overhaul the test and put it into practice immediately; moreover, students deserve the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new format. But where's the harm in implementing a few very basic changes that would bridge the gap between the old and new tests for those of us caught in the middle?
For example, the essay will be optional in 2016, but for now, it is scored in such a way that length is valued over content and facts can be made up without penalty. Why not allow students to opt out of the essay now? Similarly, in the future, points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers. Why wait
to put that into practice? Why continue to penalize test-takers for making educated guesses, a valuable skill that any good teacher cultivates in his or her students?
Nevertheless, kudos to you, College Board, for your perspicacity in acknowledging your parochialism and for taking steps to ameliorate your antediluvian test. I hope I've adequately registered my disapprobation with your timing; pardon my circumlocution.
If only I had been born two years later! In that case, I wouldn't need to know what any of those words means.