Testing the Testers

Published by patrick honner on

mc testThe SAT has long been a thorn in the side of students, parents, and teachers everywhere.  At some point it became the standard for establishing academic potential, and we’ve been forced to deal with it ever since.

It’s almost too easy to loathe the SAT and its administrative body, the College Board:  they rake in billions in revenue for providing an assessment that is of debatable value; they have helped create a mindset and industry around the idea of “test prep”;  and the College Board has positioned itself as a significant voice in education policy.  Worst of all is that, at their heart, they are a secretive entity accountable to no one.

Which makes stories like this all the sweeter.


A smart high school student, Milo Beckman, had a hypothesis about the essay component of the SAT:  he thought that longer essays earned higher scores, independent of quality.  So he took a poll of his classmates, correlated the length of their essays with their eventual scores, and ran a regression analysis on the data.  The results?

Milo says out of 115 samples, longer essays almost always garnered higher scores.

“The probability that such a strong correlation would happen by chance is 10 to the negative 18th. So 00000 …18 zeros and then (an) 18. Which is zero,” he said.

And Milo’s hypothesis seems in line with the opinions of some other prominent SAT critics.

Maybe these important exams are being so closely examined?

patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York


Ahmed Gouda · November 16, 2010 at 4:39 am

I sort of question how following the guidelines of writing an essay should affect your getting into a college. We are sort of taking a step back here I think. The point of an essay is to show your point of view, but we bog ourselves down with all these formalities. In the end what matters isn’t whether the opinion is insightful, but whether the person placed his commas properly. I recall during test prep I was told to write my essays while caring more for making sure I: Used a book as evidence, used an experience as evidence, used an event as evidence. Rather then make an actual good argument for my case. I guess it can be argued that using those things as evidence actually make a good argument, but you don’t always need to quote Shakespeare to prove something to be true.

MrHonner · November 16, 2010 at 7:58 am

I think many people undervalue the ability to write well, as both a creative and a practical tool. It’s just like the King said in Hamlet:

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go

Ahmed Gouda · November 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I see what you did there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: