It’s been long since my first — and thankfully also my last — sitting of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. I don’t intend to brag about that sitting being the only one; my score wouldn’t let me. It’s just that I am glad, in retrospect, that I am no longer evaluated with that test or the likes. I don’t mean to insinuate that anything is wrong with it — no, not even the entity administering it and collecting sizable fees for it. On the contrary, I begin to fathom the broken purpose of the test despite its flaws, bias, and partialities. The understanding of why such a dreadful testing and evaluation must be practiced worldwide came as a great surprise.
There was one SAT-administering school on the entire island of Malta. Malta being the “country with the best weather” did not protect me from the early-morning cold as I got out of the cab. With identification, pencil case, and non-programmable scientific calculator in my hands, I walked into the classroom that supposedly influenced the course of my life to a great extent. Next thing I remember is making my way out of that classroom whilst feeling very hungry. Some days later, the score report arrived. Yay. I have what most other high school students have. I could then submit what college admissions asked for. That day onward, I repurposed my hardly used Barron’s to support my laptop so its screen leveled with my eyeballs when I played Dota 2. I — probably more than anyone else in my batch — denied any benefit in every bit of the SAT — taking it, preparing for it, paying for it, or teaching it. I believed it was colleges just being derelict in their duty of investigating, recognizing, and nurturing individual talent and inclination in the name of standardization.
Learning that most Koreans of my age were subject to even harsher standardization while I was still abroad was more of a shock than relief. News reports conveyed that homogenization kills. Preachers of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” were the practitioners of “Judge a fish by its ability to climb trees.” Schooling was prevalent, but education was scarce. All-day tests were administered, but so were all-night “concentration” pills. Teaching happened, but did learning? Verses from Class Idea rang in my ears.
Busy years passed without allowing me to — not that I desired to — retrieve that part of my memory: the SAT, its apparent uselessness except maybe for administrative purposes, its short-lived nature, and the societal and monetary attention it gathers. Many more examinations came and galvanized my disgust for the SAT. Ah. The things being standardized were not the tests; it were the people taking those tests. At one point in my undergraduate life, upon re-hearing the long-forgotten name “SAT” from a freshman, it thus occurred to me that the SAT and the likes should be renamed from standardized tests to standardizing tests — aptly so.
Still busier days came, but with a very different nature of busy-ness. Upon pursuing further degrees, I was expected to think differently. Encompassing everything from learning and understanding to reading and note-taking. No one cared or dared to gauge how schoolable I am. What’s more, my colleagues also trained me to refrain from attempting such measurements on students I TA for. How correct I am was of little concern; how I know I am correct was of greater interest. A genuine study of how I reached my conclusions was of higher value than the conclusions themselves. The mere seeking of solutions was a prerequisite ability; the critical evaluation of solutions was the target one. Exams subsided as inefficient means to test the depth and width of learning, given the complexity and abstraction of learned ideas. The demonstration of well-digested concepts earned higher recognition in class and on report cards. Scholastic aptitude no longer mattered.
SAT-like tests may seem easy and “fair” ways to quantify how fit we are to pursue further education. Then, it struck me: the purpose of the SAT is to instill in middle and high school students that sense of futility. In hindsight, they grasp just how negligible standardization actually was. Yet, their having to go through it can sometimes pain them. The thing with scholarly attitude is, it can’t be put to a test.