Gaming the ACT and SAT

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I’ve written about this topic before and it’s back in the news.  The SAT.  Remember? Depending on where you live or what schools you applied to in the U.S. you either took the ACT or the SAT.  But as it’s commonly known, to those who care to know, neither test is a very good indicator of aptitude or college success. The tests correlate better with parental income and access to test taking resources.  In some cases, as Mike Krumboltz from Yahoo News points out about a NY Times report on the subject, parents spend thousands of dollars on preparation books and tutors to help their children game the test.  One such strategy is to memorize a generic essay and tweak it to the actual essay prompt.  And some privileged white parents are probably wasting money.  I have read about an experiment where a group of upper middle class kids were given the multiple choice sections of the exam without the questions and they did very well because they implicitly understood the dominant mainstream values the test answers promoted.  As I’ve mentioned before, an increasing number of forward thinking, mostly liberal arts colleges no longer require the SAT for admission, including Connecticut College and Bard; the latter, I believe now accepts a research paper.  The College Board wants to make the SAT more relevant and less easily gamed by making the essay optional and the multiple choice questions more realistic that would require kids to support their answers with evidence.  And in an attempt level the playing field in terms of access to preparatory resources, the SAT has had discussions with Khan Academy to provide free test prep for students.

Despite these encouraging developments, I am against standardized testing.  My own experiences were anything but pleasant having taking both the ACT and the GRE back as a young lad in the 80’s. I bought the exam books, took a bunch of practice exams, learned how to take multiple choice tests – no, choosing C for every answer is not generally productive.  I memorized a bunch of words, brushed up on my math, science, history and English and made just the scores I needed and not a point more.  Believe me, I’m not a very good test taker because I stress out too much.  But I could always make reasonably intelligent comments in class and have spirited, evidence based discussions with my classmates, or at least those who came to class and were awake.  And I’ve never thought an exam captured what I knew, or how deeply I understood anything.  But there is something that could be a game changer in terms of evaluating college readiness and I’m really surprised schools haven’t tapped into this.  Games!

Candy Crush requires the kind of critical thinking skills that colleges look for in a prospect.  To be successful with Candy Crush, one needs to plan a strategy, select some boosters, and activate a social network for support, all valued skills in our modern world.  The more “competitive” colleges and universities could require a minimum Candy Crush score. In the interview, a candidate might have to demonstrate proficiency at a particular level, say 104 or something. The Candy Crush option might be best suited for the sub/urban chic who dwell in Starbuck’s after school for Iced Hazelnut Macchiatos and the Michigan Cherry Oat Bar. The alternative to Candy Crush, could be Angry birds, best suited perhaps for the nature loving birder type who also likes to hunt wild hogs for adventure.  Level 230 and up might be deemed college material.

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