The End of Standardized Testing?

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George Washington University (where I attended law school) recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be required as part of the college application. You can read more about it here.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but they haven’t yet coalesced into a coherent and consistent idea. So, for now let me list out some ideas and let you do the analysis.

- Optional isn’t outlawed. As long as some students are allowed to submit standardized test scores, this policy doesn’t seem to have much bite. Presumably, the applications with test scores included will be ones with good scores, while the likely conclusion to be drawn from omitted test scores is that they weren’t very good. This isn’t the Fifth Amendment. Your silence can (and probably will) be used against you.

- Most of the students I’ve worked with and seen in my years in the the industry who haven’t been able to put together college-level standardized test scores were lucky that they struggled with the SAT. The truth of it is that most of these students were woefully underprepared for the academic rigor that that college offers, and encountering resistance earlier in the process rather than later is probably best.

- At the same time, I am very aware that the students I see are a very biased sample who have had many more advantages and opportunities to succeed since birth than the average kid. Socio-economically disadvantaged students score lower on average on standardized tests. I don’t attribute that to racial bias or fundamental problems with the questions being asked, but rather to two factors. The first is that lack of access to the best instruction and extra help has often put these students behind their peers since elementary school. The second is that these students tend to have less access to specialized instruction that can help unlock standardized testing. The combination of these factors produces students who are both less prepared for the SAT and less prepared for college. However, if given a shot, some of those students will thrive in an academic environment where they are given the tools to succeed. Sadly, others will be unable to overcome the deficit. Removing the requirement of standardized test scores will likely increase the number of those types of students, and that’s a situation colleges need to prepare themselves for if this trend continues.

- Removing a standardized test requirement increases the weight of high school grades. If you want an inconsistent and unreliable scale, use high school grades. The differences between the tens of thousands of high schools around the country are massive, and asking colleges to understand the idiosyncratic processes that led to each students GPA is just asking for trouble.

At minimum it’s an interesting topic. What’s your take on colleges not requiring standardized test scores?

 College Admissions Madness

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In this recent New York Times article Frank Bruni takes a look at the madness that is the college admissions process. He traces the unconventional routes to success of some students who missed out on their first choice colleges. He then goes on to show that those routes may not be quite as unconventional as they may seem.

Whether you’re sweating out admissions decisions this spring, or just starting to think about the college process, it’s well worth the read.

And remember, you are more than the sum of your test scores and the name of your alma mater.

 How to Deal with Rejection (from College)

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By Mjt16, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether it’s prom, college, or a job, rejection is never easy. Before finding out, you wonder and wait— dreams form, projections surface, and speculations abound. The expectations are palpable. With patient anticipation, you wait for your reward, for the months and years of preparation and work. Until the note comes back to your locker. Or until the letter arrives in the mail. And all it says is “No. Sorry.”

Rejection is brutal for its completeness—it’s seems so final.

I wish I could give you advice for finding a date to prom. But I don’t have access to a quantum computer, so I can’t run the calculations. But, I heard that CERN will take up the question now that they have found evidence of the Higgs Boson. So don’t fret.

College rejection is something that I can comment on, though. ’Tis the season for acceptance and rejection letters to start flowing out of college admission offices. If you have already completed the process and are waiting, then all you can do is wait at this point. But for those out there who are starting to apply or plan on applying soon, there are couple of things you can do to mitigate the rejection letters, which will inevitably arrive in your mailbox.

Apply to a lot of schools. Apply to a lot of schools. Apply to a lot of schools. Plenty of cliches and expressions (The wider the net…, Don’t put all your eggs…, Don’t count your chickens…) emphasize this idea for a reason—failure is inevitable so why not be smart and guard against it. So be smart and apply to as many schools as you can. I advise my students to apply to at least 10-15 schools. That way, they optimize their chances for success and minimize the effects of rejection. Don’t deceive yourself; rejection will happen, especially when applying to schools, so be smart.

Apply to a range of schools. Don’t apply to all top-tier schools and don’t apply to all lower-tier schools. Distribute your applications. Apply to a Harvard or MIT because you have nothing to lose but a little time (to complete the application) and a little money ($50 – $75). Although only a small portion (14-30%) of applicants are accepted to these schools, you should aim high. That’s why it’s a dream. You aim as high as you can, so that even if you fail to reach the summit of your aspirations, you will have traveled a great distance in trying to reach them. Conversely, don’t apply strictly to the Ivy league schools. Send applications to schools you are confident you can get into, but may not want to go to. It’s always good to have a plan C and D.

Apply to schools in different places. Some students want to stay where they are; others want to move to New York City or Los Angeles for school. The location consumes all other considerations, and they focus merely on the where they will spend the next two to six years. This is an important factor in choosing a school, but don’t let it overwhelm all other considerations. Look to other places too. Apply to schools near you, in your state, in other states, or even in other countries. Look for other places that you would like to live. Research different regions, and I am sure you will find many places that will enrich your learning.

Nothing is a sure bet, and I am not going to guarantee that you will get into a school if you follow these three pieces of advice. However, I can definitely say that if you do these things, your odds of getting into college will increase.

But what if you still don’t get into a school? First thing to do is take a step back and re-evaluate your plans. Stay positive and optimistic about school even though you may have to put off college for a year, which actually is not a terrible turn. A year not in college can be spent improving your test scores, rewriting your application essays, taking classes at a community college, or gaining valuable experience at a job or an internship. And don’t forget that there are schools with open enrollment so you might not even wait a full year before applying again.

Rejection is only hard when you don’t expect it. But if you plan well and anticipate these types of challenges, rejection can be easy to shrug off like a rainy day.

Rejection from prom is entirely different, though. That’s a tornado, hurricane, lightning storm, earthquake, and volcanic eruption leveled on your heart and mind all at once. But stay positive. You’ll find someone to go to prom with. Maybe you’ve been looking in the wrong place.