Have you ever traveled to another country by yourself?
When Christian Rudder sorted through the thousands of questions that his online dating company OK Cupid asks members about themselves searching for a good predictor of which members might be compatible with each other, I doubt he guessed that one would rise to the top. But, when sorting through the numbers for his blog and recent book Dataclysm, Rudder found that members who answered that question the same way were much more likely to send each other messages than members who answered differently.
Dataclysm is all about exploring what the aggregation of data can tell us about ourselves both individually and as a society. For instance, it turns out that a preference for certain snack foods may correlate with a higher IQ. From the semi-useful to the completely trivial these nuggets of data about a large number of people may help us predict with better accuracy what will happen in the future.
When I run into an opponent of standardized testing who talks about how biased everything is, I think about Dataclysm. I wonder if there’s a combination of questions that would better determine an applicant’s success at higher levels of education. For instance, what if your application to college contained that following questions:
- What country does your favorite car come from?
- How long is your average shower?
- Who if your favorite TV game show host?
What if that was it? What if we pored through millions of college applicants and compared their answers to these questions to the academic records they went on to compile and determined that the answers to these questions were even better predictors than GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities or anything else we put into college applications?
First, we’d complain. Obviously. Our first instinct is usually to complain about something new. But next we’d try to game the system. We’d try to figure out what answers the colleges wanted to hear. If I like Italian cars, does that make me cosmopolitan or a snob? Does a seven-minute shower make me seem efficient or dirty? Do they want me to go with Alex Trebek to seem intellectual or should I pick something more obscure?
But assuming sufficient secrecy there really isn’t a good way to go about gaming these questions. You either are or you aren’t college material, and these questions are the best way of figuring that out.
Let’s come back to the SAT. Here’s all you need to know. It does a pretty good job of predicting college success. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. And here’s the important part: If you don’t start out with a great SAT score you can put in the work to improve it.
Part of me wants to pan the SAT for being so teachable and giving such an advantage to kids whose parents have the resources to hire tutors and purchase test materials that help their children succeed. Part of me loves the fact that any student who is sufficiently motivated can find a way to raise his or her scores.
The SAT is a predictor of future success, but unlike the survey I posed earlier, it’s a predictor that you have a great deal of control over it. Put in the work and make the statement you want to make when you put your SAT score on your applications.