College entrance exams: useful filtering too? Or unnecessary evil?

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College entrance exams: useful filtering too? Or unnecessary evil?

Photo courtesy of www.collegequest.com.

Photo courtesy of www.collegequest.com.

Photo courtesy of www.collegequest.com.

Photo courtesy of www.collegequest.com.

Benji Grossman, Contributing Writer

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It’s junior year of high-school and stress levels are high. You have an endless amount of vocabulary words due next Monday for three different classes, an English presentation due tomorrow (that you haven’t even started) and a college visit this weekend. But more important than all of these…. The dreaded ACT and SAT. You prepare for months on end by purchasing prep guides, sitting through endless ACT boot-camps, going to a tutor and paying $50 (plus an extra $18 for the writing section) to actually take the test itself. This is the reality for many juniors who plan on going to college regardless of intelligence level. You could be the most hardworking, kind, intelligent and qualified person in the world, but fail to get into your dream school because of one lousy test. This is why the ACT/SAT should take a major backseat to course rigor, interviews, essays and extracurriculars in the college admissions process.

It’s a simple fact that every single person is completely different from the next, and no two people think the exact same way, talk the exact same way or have the exact same plans for the future. So why should one singular test have such a major bearing on your college track and career track (especially if your intended career is very niche)?

For instance, take someone who wants to pursue a career in art or music. Logically, you’d probably want to go to art school or music school, right? Say you’re a world class musician. You have your sights on the University of Southern California’s prestigious Thornton School of Music. You have a fantastic essay, you had a massively successful interview and every AP music class your school offers. But there’s one problem: you have a 25 on the ACT, and USC’s average ACT score is between a 30 and 33. You may be the most qualified musician for USC, but a standardized test, one that doesn’t even test the field you’re going into, keeps you from getting in. Solon High School (SHS) junior Matthew Bederman said that having career-specific skills should be much more important to the college process than knowing ACT/SAT material.

“If you’re going to school for a very niche career or trade, I don’t know if having a 36 on the ACT is that important,” he said. “It’s more important to have creative skills, people skills.”

A CollegeVine.com article also weighed in on the issue and said that when a school initially gets your application, they use the ACT/SAT as almost a filtering tool to automatically throw peoples names out of the question.

“They [admissions tests] are one of a few factors that are commonly reviewed before an entire section gets read… they [admissions officers] are simply not able to read each and every application in its entirety,” it said.

It is true that without standardized tests as a weeding system, it would take a significantly larger amount of time to get through every application, as well as taking more manpower. However, with the miniscule amount of time that colleges are currently looking at applications, even a one-minute increase in order to glance at extracurriculars or recommendation letters can really help to show who’s truly qualified. Assistant Director of Admissions at Widener University Geoff Broome said in a blog on college admissions that as it is now, schools spend almost zero time looking over applications.

Not only are the concepts on college admissions tests totally irrelevant to some career paths, but the concepts tested aren’t taught to students at the same grade level. The definition of intelligence is, “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Therefore, it doesn’t make any sense to test material that people learn in vastly different years. SHS junior Dylan Sussman, who has taken the ACT multiple times, said that “sections like math are comprised of questions that some people learned 3-4 years ago.”

Sussman, along with many other advanced math students who currently take classes like pre-calc, AP calc AB, BC and AP stats learned the Algebra and Geometry necessary for the ACT many years prior to testing. On the other hand, some students have either learned the material just a year prior to taking the test, are learning it the same year they take college admissions tests or haven’t even learned it yet! Obviously, students should learn at an accelerated rate if they can handle it, but how is it fair that they get re-tested on things they learned ages ago and haven’t practiced since?

Additionally, Sussman reiterated that there’s way more to someone’s academic profile than just one test. Sussman’s point is an important one, and goes back to the core of the argument. For example, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush reportedly got a 22 and a 26 on the ACT, respectively. Both of these men were the leaders of the entire free world, and although the scores aren’t necessarily bad, they aren’t really exceptional scores. I’d more than argue that by looking at these scores without the names attached, nobody would be able to guess that the scores belonged to United States Presidents.

Going further than the ACT/SAT’s subject relevance, it’s totally possible to “buy” your way into a decent score… or at least one that reflects more than you’re actually capable of. With such emphasis on the ACT/SAT, dozens of tutors, workshops and prep guides are now out there for people to buy. Tutors especially have become expensive luxuries boasting that they can substantially raise your score. Sussman said that some even view tutoring as cheating, especially since it’s very expensive and many people can’t afford it.

How are you supposed to test people fairly if some are getting advanced tutoring and others aren’t? How are you gauging intelligence if some people learned how to “take the test” and others didn’t? This is like if the NFL allowed some players to take performance enhancing drugs, but did allow others. Also, even if you know all the material, tutors are still a valuable asset for those who can afford it because they teach you the ins and outs of the test itself.

I’m willing to bet that many would agree that what makes the ACT a challenge is the time component, and if you know exactly how to break up the test time-wise, you’re already getting an advantage that’s totally unrelated to actual intelligence.

Onto a different point, the stress level that the ACT/SAT puts on students is immense. Students have to worry about a million different things, and a huge test like the ACT/SAT isn’t something most kids can just brush off. SHS Curriculum Director Erica Kosiorek commented on the pressure these tests put kids under.

“College admissions tests are a lot of pressure in one sitting,” she said.

SHS Government Teacher and Boys Golf Coach Joe Nunney added that that the college admissions tests are incredibly tough on student anxiety levels.

“Kids see it as an all or nothing proposition, a do or die,” he said. “If [students] don’t do well on this test, on this particular day, then [their] future is going to be affected for years to come.”

Admittedly, there are some positives the ACT/SAT does provide. Kosiorek said that college admissions tests provide a sort-of universal comparison tool for colleges to evaluate if one student is more qualified than the next.

“It’s a standardized norm test that can compare everybody,” she said. “You all go to different schools, have different teachers and every state may have different standards… The ACT/SAT is the one standardized thing that we can rank kids based off of.”

This does warrant some truth, as although there are national education standards (Common Core), not all schools teach everything the same or offer the same programs. Schools have vastly different levels of funding, electives offered and enrichment opportunities in the form of music programs, sports teams and educational extracurriculars.

It’s also true that something like an interview, essay or any other personality-based piece of an application also doesn’t prove if someone is qualified to go to a school or not. Nunney said that just because someone can interview and talk well, it has no bearing on if they’re academically up for a certain school.

While all of these points are true, there should be many aspects of an application that are equally taken into account, not just a few weighted heavily. The overemphasis on certain aspects (namely, standardized tests) is what needs to be fixed.

Schools love throwing out the phrase “well-rounded individual” when it comes to applying. The literal definition of well-rounded is someone who covers well in all areas of instruction and criteria. Based on this definition, wouldn’t it imply that a truly well-rounded person would need to show an equally good GPA, essay, course rigor AND a good ACT/SAT score? If so, colleges: do us a favor and prove it. Quit stressing standardized tests so heavily.

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