Friday, March 07, 2014

"Orangutan sounds"

There are potentially valid arguments against the SAT: that it doesn't measure anything important, or that it simply reflects socioeconomic background.* Then there's Jennifer Finney Boylan's take:

Boylan found the SAT stressful, thus "The SAT is a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture." While she's by no means alone, plenty of students don't find the test all that torturous. Meanwhile I've had classmates who find any number of assignments too stressful to bear: essays, long and dense readings, lab reports (ahem). Should these, too, be chucked? And this is... supposed to be cute? It can't possibly be serious:

As the mother of two former SAT takers (one a sophomore in college, the other a senior in high school awaiting the result of his applications), I can also point out another problem with the test: It usually starts around 8:30 in the morning. I don’t know if the members of the College Board have ever met a 17-year-old at that hour, but I can tell you this is not the time of day I would choose to test their ability to do anything, except perhaps make orangutan sounds.
Yes, how terribly unfair. How biased in favor of morning people. Never mind that work tends to start in the morning, as do plenty of college classes. As does high school. The ability to suck it up and accomplish something in the early morning isn't some abstract skill of no use later, but quite handy if, say, you find yourself living in Central NJ and commuting into NY. If all the SAT measured was the ability to show up for the SAT at groggy o'clock, this would probably measure something worthwhile.

*While the socioeconomic thing is a good point, I never cease to be amazed by the frequency with which those who repeat that argument turn out to be advocating on behalf not of the underprivileged, but the snowflake, hidden-genius children of the upper-middle class.


caryatis said...

Actually, teenagers find it objectively more difficult to be alert early in the morning because their circadian rhythms are different from those of older people, and I believe their sleep needs are higher too. So if you really wanted teenagers to do well, you would start the test later. That said, starting it early doesn't seem _unfair_ given that the takers are roughly the same age.

Phoebe said...

"That said, starting it early doesn't seem _unfair_ given that the takers are roughly the same age."

Yes, this is key. It's not the Olympics, not a test of human potential. It's a measure of relative ability.

I remember being completely exhausted for all of high school. I had a long commute (if short by the school's standards), and - this seems impossible to me now - would run outside in winter for track practice after school, then go home and do so very much homework. What I remember, I suppose, was needing more sleep than I do now, but also functioning just fine on less than I do now.

(Another plus of 30: the two-beer hangover. Old age...)

Jess said...

"Studies of teenagers around the globe have found that adolescent brains do not start releasing melatonin until around eleven o’clock at night and keep pumping out the hormone well past sunrise. Adults, meanwhile, have little-to-no melatonin in their bodies when they wake up." (David Randall in his book, "Dreamland")

... The fact that all the teens taking the test are the same age is besides the point. Because of the different circadian rhythms of teenagers compared to adults, making them start at 8.30 in the morning would be like making an adult start at 5.30.

Being able to get up and go to work is an important skill, but this is not what the SAT was designed to test. I believe the real question raised by Jennifer Finney Boylan's comment is actually whether the early morning starts prevents the SAT from providing an accurate read of teens' abilities.

Phoebe said...


I'm not sure what I can add to what Caryatis already said - what matters is that most everyone taking the test is similarly compromised. Examining adults at 5:30, if the point was to compare them with other adults taking the same test at 5:30, might not be pleasant, but no one's getting an unfair advantage. And, I mean, high school starts around 8:30, unless something's changed dramatically since I attended. It may not be hormonally-optimal, but kids that age are used to taking tests at that hour.

"Being able to get up and go to work is an important skill, but this is not what the SAT was designed to test."

Yes, this was me being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Clearly the SAT isn't supposed to be about that. But my not-entirely-unserious point was that, if that did enter into what the SAT measured, it would be of clear value, and not just an arbitrary class-marker-type piece of information. If the point of the SAT is to assess who will do well in college, the ability to crawl out of bed is relevant information!