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College entrance exams remain a source of anxiety for high schoolers and their parents — a cycle on repeat for decades now. In his documentary The Test & the Art of Thinking, director Michael Arlen Davis digs into the tests’ sordid origins, demonstrates how they’re mastered with skills akin to the tactics players use to beat video games, and details how their utility has been thoroughly debunked.
Since their beginning as offshoots of the early twentieth-century eugenics movement, the SAT and ACT have purported to test intelligence or learning. But they’ve long been exposed — by educators, college admissions officials, aptitude measurement scientists, and even test prep coaches — as useless barometers, instead, of how well kids game the tests’ arcane trickery.
It’s tempting to presume that the College Board, which devises and administers the SAT, carries on because it’s a booming business — but that doesn’t explain why most elite American colleges, in thrall to ranking lists, still embrace the tests. Schools that have rendered the tests optional are welcoming more diverse sets of high-caliber students by evaluating achievement in more sophisticated and accurate ways.
Among the tests’ biggest critics — and most profound advocates for their demise — are coaches enlisted by wealthy parents to boost their kids’ scores. They show how to ace questions without even reading them, and how essays with blatant inaccuracies can get a perfect score as long as they hit the right criteria. It’s a brutal takedown of a practice now warping K-12 education and should embarrass every school that still requires them.
The Test & the Art of Thinking
Directed by Michael Arlen Davis
Opens April 27, Landmark at 57 West
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