THE TEST AND THE ART OF THINKING (doc, 2020)

November 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “And you may begin.” Thanks to this documentary feature film from Michael Arlen Davis, we now know that 3.5 million high school students graduate each year, and 80% of them have taken a standardized college admission test at least once. The vast majority of those students experience anxiety and feel the pressure that comes with needing a certain score to have any chance at gaining admission to the school of their choice.

Why do these tests exist? What do they measure? How are scores used in the admissions process? How accurate are they in predicting academic success at the next level? These topics are discussed during the film through interviews with academics, tutors, parents, and students. Surprisingly, the professional tutors – or testing coaches – provide the most insight. Each has their own philosophy, but the key takeaway is that standardized tests don’t evaluate what you know, but rather how you think and how well-prepared you are to take such a test.

Carl Brigham, a Princeton Professor of Psychology and member of the advisory council of the American Eugenics Society, is credited with creating the original SAT, though it’s been re-designed a few times since. We hear from John Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review in 1986 as a business to teach and tutor students on how to best prepare for standardized tests. From there, many others, including private for-hire tutors have become part of this ever-expanding industry. This goes to the core of just how important test scores are viewed in the college admission process.

In 2001, Dr. Atkinson of the University of California system announced they were looking to drop the SAT from the admissions evaluation, and this year’s COVID environment has pushed other systems and schools to consider alternative methods as well. It’s pointed out that the tests are not dissimilar to IQ tests, yet most agree a test score is not an accurate measure of intelligence. Standardized tests are described as a “get the answer” test, and the better students hone this skill, the less anxiety or stress they feel, and the more options they’ll have for advanced education … or all of the above.

Available on streaming platforms beginning November 17, 2020

watch the trailer