The Great Equalizer

Although we often define ourselves by our score on a 1600 scale, schools are gradually letting us be more than one number.

E. Cauley '19, Writer

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It seems universally accepted that tests are the ultimate measure of intelligence. Learning seems only an insignificant stepping stone to what is viewed as the mastering of knowledge. If you can’t conquer those fleeting questions then you’re not smart, right? Life will never let you correct your mistakes. Life is pass or fail. This is real life. Or is it?


Tests are supposedly an equalizer. If everyone takes the same exam, then it will be fair; the results will reveal your level of understanding. Sure everyone takes the test, but not everyone is equally good at test taking. How can you create any measure of understanding with a student who reads quickly and a student who takes their time? How can you create a test for students who get the same answer but get to it differently? The focus is on the test being the exact same but how can that work when the ones who take it are so different? Why are we so set in one judgement, and what happens to those who just don’t thrive under it?


Luckily for those who are not excellent test takers, classrooms do consider other factors in the final grades. Things like participation, projects, and completion of homework is enough to show an understanding and passion for each subject. The teacher can assess that you do understand or want to understand the subject, and are able to guide you. But what about the other tests in life? What about the ones that are the sole representation of your intelligence?


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We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you. Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you.”

— Jim Nondorf, VP and dean of admissions at the University of Chicago

Unfortunately, a prime example of this kind of test falls under college applications: the SAT/ACT. Most colleges, though getting better at considering a wide number of things in an application, do expect good results on this exam. When admission counselors are asked if this can be a deciding factor, they almost always dodge the question. Though it is known that not all people thrive equally under this “great equalizer” many universities still need admissions to come down to results, and it is just so easy to use this one. They love to use that fifty percent range to defer some students from applying or to justify denying an otherwise perfect applicant, but they never imagine how much they could be losing. Each student has so much more to them than just those few hours in a classroom on a Saturday morning. They are made of millions of moments where they conquered topics and brought up incredible discussions. Colleges never see that when they judge on a test score, and they most likely miss out.


Not all colleges are so willing to let these amazing applicants slip away. Colleges such as Wake Forest University, University of Chicago, and the George Washington University in addition to many more are moving further into the search for the right applicants instead of just the perfect ones. College applications will always be a set of very tough decisions, but we are moving away from a future defined by only a few hours. The future is optional, test optional.

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