Entrance exams limit students’ potential for success

By Jonathan Deesing

I love college. Probably more than Asher Roth. I love going to class, writing papers and, to a lesser extent, taking tests. However, sometimes college makes me sick. Not the usual college sickness8212;the one induced by alcohol8212;but rather a shameful, inescapable nausea brought on by the institution of college itself.

We have all heard how important individuality is in college. After all, it’s the only way that we progress as a society. We wouldn’t have the Empire State Building if William Jenney hadn’t stepped forward with the structural steel frame. Without Karl Benz’s internal combustion engine, we wouldn’t have known the beauty of a Ferrari.

To develop, to grow as students, we must be limited by nothing, inhibited by no one and fortunately, we rarely are. Sure, we must trudge through the daily bromides, the busywork, the painfully trite garbage we encounter in so many classes. But if you want to write a paper calling the Bard uninspired and loquacious, you are welcome to do so; you might even get an A.

Obviously, the classroom aspect of college doesn’t make me sick. It is the fact that the U and many other universities preach individuality and objectivism within their ranks while at the same time showing their ugly backsides to prospective students8212;standardized testing.

If students hope to attend Harvard to hone their creative writing skills, they must first submit themselves to a test of their unoriginality, and they had better be damn good at it. Indeed, Harvard, ranked the No. 1 national university by U.S. News and World Report, also boasts some of the highest SAT and ACT scores of incoming freshmen. Of the top 25 universities on this list, the lowest 25th percentile of freshmen SAT scores rarely dips below 1300 out of 1600.

These are the universities that produced some of the greatest minds in our country’s history, and consequently, many of our presidents. However, they still insist on limiting themselves to students with the most practice filling in circles on a piece of paper.

The SAT and ACT have fallen under harsh criticism during the past decade for being archaic and ill-representative of students’ potential in their first year of college. One of the most outspoken critics on the subject is the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which said in its 2008 testing report that the SAT and ACT “may not be critical to making good admission decisions at many of the colleges and universities that use them.” The NACAC finds issue with the fact that neither of these tests necessarily display an amount of knowledge learned in high school8212;they simply show how much a student learned in a preparatory course.

Although it is no secret that these tests are not the best representation of a student’s knowledge or even his or her preparedness for college, most universities, including the U, still require one for admission8212;further perpetuating the tests’ importance. The NACAC’s report proposes the best solution: the creation of a test based on high school curriculum, a test that students will perform well on if they did well in high school.
Many colleges still require these tests and tout their high-scoring freshmen as a claim that they must continue using the ACT and SAT for admissions because a better alternative does not exist. This is certainly not the case. More than 800 four-year programs in the United States no longer require these tests for many of the reasons championed by the NACAC.

Unfortunately, undergraduate admissions are not the only ones using arcane tests. Graduate schools in humanities and many other fields require the GRE, a test seemingly devised by mad scientists and BCS officials. The GRE is a computer-based exam that adjusts questions mid-test depending on how well a student is performing. However, it also weighs the first questions more heavily, penalizing students who don’t perform well at the beginning of tests.

But the delights of the GRE don’t stop there. No, there’s vocabulary presented without context, high school math and a writing portion graded by what the GRE’s website vaguely describes as “two trained readers.”

The U, and other universities throughout the United States need to realize that by requiring such tests for admission, they are not only limiting students but also themselves. They are simply perpetuating another college-supported monopoly and only doing so because that’s what their predecessors did. For a college that has seen the downsides of these monopolies, the U doesn’t seem to mind this one.
It would be great if our academic programs could be as progressive as the football program, but I won’t hold my breath for any “SAT Busters” bumper stickers.

[email protected]

Jonathon Deesing