Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Never Took an SAT Exam

I Never Took an SAT Exam
Jonathan T. Jefferson

How better to make my point than to share my own experiences?  I am not a fan of college admissions tests, and find it absurd the amount of time and money spent preparing for them.  The “haves” can spend the money while the “have-nots” cannot.  This does not make the haves smarter than the have-nots; just more aware of the strategies employed to help maximize their test scores on a specific test.  The new SAT tests (2016) will try to balance this equation by giving have-nots access to similar test strategy training.  After all; civility, social ability, mechanical inclinations, and creativity are only secondary considerations for colleges that rely on admissions tests.

Back in 1986, I arrived at my high school one day with no knowledge of an exam being given that morning.  My 11th grade peers were equally in the dark when we were told our first two class periods were canceled so that we could take an exam called a PSAT.  We shrugged in unison when it was explained to us that this was a practice SAT exam.  No big deal.  If they want us to practice, we’ll practice.  Without preparation, or excess stress, we took the exam and went about our day.  Several weeks later we received results that did not appear to count toward anything, so the exam was quickly forgotten.

Spring ahead 20 years to 2006, and the PSAT has become as prepared for and stressed over as the SAT.  There are merit scholarships attached to PSAT results, and the cavalier attitude my generation had toward that test is long gone.  Also of note is the fact that 20 years after taking a PSAT, I was finishing my fourth college degree.  My route to a doctorate was atypical.  I never took an SAT, but earned my Bachelor of Science degree with honors.  I never took a GRE, but earned my Master of Education and Advanced Certificate degrees with Distinction.

Aware of my past successes without standardized admissions tests, I asked the head of the doctorate program I applied for in 2002 to wave the MAT requirement.  He refused, so I begrudgingly took the MAT.  I did so without preparing, and did not score high enough to meet the doctorate program’s requirement (despite three college degrees).  The department head accepted me in the doctorate program along with 30 others, but required me to re-take the MAT.  I practiced my analogies by adding my dollars to the pockets of a test prep book publisher, and easily scored high enough the second time around.  If the test had any merit, being the last of the 30 cohort members to qualify should have resulted in me being one of the last to complete his doctorate.  Reality was much different.  I was the second one in my cohort to complete his doctorate.

As a New York City public school student, admission to City University of New York colleges was determined by high school transcripts.  The graduate schools I attended; Springfield College and Mercy College also made determinations based on my college transcript.  I’m sure I would have performed just as well in my doctorate program if I had never heard of, or took, the MAT.  Are we doing students an injustice by valuing standardized tests ahead of years of study?