A response to Perigrinato
First off, an admission. I teach GRE test preparation classes as a side job sometimes. I am certified my test prep company to teach SAT, but I don’t like high school kids. I have the scores to be certified to teach LSAT, but LSAT students are notorious for being difficult and arguing every point. Why bother?
I am the reason the standardized tests are biased. Kids who can afford my classes do better. I teach them polynomials, the six types of analogy questions and to come to the testing center dressed in layers and with an energy bar in their pocket for the break. That my classes cost a lot of money is unfortunate, though there are scholarships available. That my classes take a lot of time I don’t apologize for. Hard work in preparation for what you perceive as a pointless hurdle is as good a preparation for some parts of academia as I can think of.
Perigrinato’s statement “The test favors those who have had time or money to prepare for the exam.” can be slightly altered to the universal truth “Everything favors those who have had time or money to prepare.”
But there is a bias that makes me a far more natural defender of standardized tests than my financial motive.
I’m one hell of a lousy student. My LSATs say I should be going to Princeton Law. My grades suggest Fame School of Nail Design. No, as I have explained to parents, teachers and friends for nearly two decades, I don’t know why I’m so awful. Why I procrastinate, why I forget everything the day of the test, why I write searing critiques of books that turn out to be written by the professor, why I ran my college newspaper, starred in a play and was president of my dorm all at the same time, but kept forgetting to go to class. Medicate me, write my schedule, punish me, change my diet, do whatever. Nothing fixes the mess that is CC’s academic life, and nothing is going to persuade anyone who has ever tried to have me in a classroom that I’m good at standardized tests because my learning style is so very normal.
I didn’t take a prep class. I didn’t even study for the GRE. But I did score in the 97th percentile.
My graduate school grades were a few A’s and mostly B’s. I didn’t finish because I was miserable and had figured out that it wasn’t preparing me for anything I wanted to do, my fault not my program’s.
Of course undergraduate grades are a better predictor of graduate grades in aggregate. Wouldn’t it be weird if that weren’t the case? But all schools are not the same, and grades do not always tell the full story. . (Of course, minorities tend to get worse grades, and women, too, if we’re talking about math or science.) Will straight A’s and flawless recommendations from Dixie Cup Community College get one in to Harvard law? With a 179 LSAT accompanying them, they will at least be looked at. Without it? Don’t bother.
One of CC’s high school English teachers grew up in New Haven and he said as a kid a fun time of the year was the end of the fall semester, when large bunches of furniture would appear in a certain spot as every year a few dozen Freshmen from hick towns who had come to Yale with straight A’s found that their schools hasn’t prepared them when they flunked out. (Is this true? It’s a convenient story for a high school English teacher to tell, I’ll admit. But the image has stayed with me. And SAT’s might have caught the problem in advance.)
Test scores are useful other ways. It’s logical to assume that students who get low math grades/test scores are poor math students. But it isn’t always the case. If a student has gotten a low math score, but a high analytical score, that usually indicates the math ability is there.
And the tests are not designed my accident. My favorite example is on the GMAT (which is for business school.) One type of question asks you to look at a problem, look at some information pertaining to the problem, and figure out if you have enough information to solve the problem. Are you suited to be an MBA who comes into the company, figures out how to fix things and then hires the guys to carry out the solutions? In a very brief moment, the GMAT can measure the skills at the heart of what people who hire MBAs want them to do.