Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Entrance Exam: I read in The Wall Street Journal that some companies are asking its potential hires for their SAT scores. Volokh cites a friend who thinks this is a great idea.

I completely disagree. People are still debating whether SAT results should have any bearing on admitting students to college. Now, suddenly, people's math and verbal scores may follow them around for the rest of their careers.

I'm not a huge fan of the SAT, and I encourage people to debate whether the test is appropriate for college admissions standards and how the exam can be improved. Let's not expand its importance just yet.

As you might have guessed, I did not do particularly well on the SAT. My first crack at the test during my sophomore year of high school, I scored a miserable 950. My junior year, I took it again and scored an 1160. No test-prep classes. No tutoring. I jumped 210 points from just from what I learned that year in high school. For what it's worth, I went on to graduate with a B average from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in history after spending all four of my college years working for the school newspaper, The Daily Texan.

The exam tests students on information that doesn't hold any real value. Few people ever use those words found in the verbal section. And when they do, nobody really understands what they're saying. That's not effective communication. And I haven't found a need to take the cosine of anything since I began my career as a journalist.

That's not to say the SAT is completely worthless. With apologies to Winston Churchill, the SAT is the worst possible college admissions standard except all those others that have been tried from time to time. Other "creative" college admissions standards have fallen well short of replacing the College Board test. You may remember a few years ago when Colorado College in Colorado Springs got rid of the SAT and based its admissions criteria in part on how high-school students played with Legos -- yes, the little plastic interlocking blocks from daycare.

The SAT has its faults, but it is an exam that tests students' knowledge on various subjects. From what I recollect of college, we had many exams that operated the same way. If the SAT determines how well someone performs on a test, well, that will give some indication of how they'll do in college.

But succeeding at a job involves more than cramming and regurgitating facts for an exam. Time management, organization, and maturity also play a role. If the SAT could measure that, then there would be no real reason to go to college. People would skip those four years of accumulating debt and would jump straight into the workplace, gaining real-world knowledge along with a paycheck. Companies would fight for hot commodities early out of high school, similar to the NBA draft -- and we've all seen that the level of play has dropped significantly since the NBA started drafting 18 year olds.

College not only provides students knowledge on various subjects, it also teaches them about responsibility, about social interaction, how to learn, and how to take a test while severely hung over. While the real world is strikingly different from college dorms, higher education does provide a halfway house between the nurturing environment of high school and the dog-eat-dog world of reality.

Granted, college is not for everybody. I know many highly successful people who never went to college. But companies still hold a college degree in high regard because it signifies that somebody accomplished something beyond passing a test. It shows that the person completed a rigorous growing-up process.

So, to take a look at someone's SAT scores for hiring purposes displaces importance on what that person has accomplished in college. There are many things I'm glad I don't have to drag around with me from high school. Let's keep it that way.


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