Monday, April 18, 2016

Why Do You Remember Your SAT Score?

       What's your social security number?  What is your phone number?  How tall are you?  When were you born?  What did you get on your SATs?  Huh??  Why is your SAT score is a number that you memorize every bit as much as your phone number?  I can't find any survey data that says the percentage of adults who recall their SAT score (from among adults who have taken the SAT), but my own anecdotal evidence suggests that it is very high.  I dare say that a far majority--maybe more than 75%--of adults who have taken the SAT more than 20 years ago can still recall their score today.


        Why is this number, this score--which has no power whatsoever in lives of people in their 30s and 40s--so ingrained in our memories?  It's just a number that (years ago) described our ability to do high school mathematics and our knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.  It won't get us a raise or a promotion twenty-plus years later.  There's no college admission counselor to impress when you're in your late 30s.   We're certainly not going to get any reward or trophy or recognition of any kind.

       So why is your SAT score so important to you that you remember it for your whole life?  Why?  I have a theory....  At the time we took the SAT, everyone around us made a big deal about it.  It was billed as the most important test we will ever take.  They said, "Your life depends on it."  (Or something to that effect.)  It was like training for the Olympics.  The test date was on our mind for weeks before.  We thought and thought and thought about it.  We worried about it.  It was a sort of a milestone in our young lives; like getting our driver's license.  We might have taken it more than once because someone said that that was a good idea.  It was an accomplishment akin to graduating from high school or running a mile in six minutes or going out on your first date.

       I think that taking the SATs was billed as such a huge event in our lives, that most of us figured it was important enough to remember our scores.  But, I fear, that it also produced a generation of people that valued test scores over actual learning.  Today in education, we are trying to change this thinking.

       Today educators value frequent formative assessment over the results of unit tests and final exams.  We value multiple data points over the "one big test".  We value a combination of conceptual understanding and procedural knowledge over the mere regurgitation of facts.  Learning and the measurement of learning has come a long way.  Some colleges don't even use the SAT as a consideration for admission.  Others use it as one of many factors for making the admission decision.

       Aside from the college admission process, your SAT score really isn't very important in your life.  Americans are competitive people.  We like to win.  We don't want people to pass us on the highway; we don't want to lose a promotion to someone else; we don't want our lawn to look worse than our neighbor's lawn.  We have to stop competing for everything.  Your SAT score does not define who you are.  You won't "win" or "lose" anything because of your SAT score; especially twenty-plus years after you take the SAT.

       There are lots of experiences that most adults would gladly like to forget about their high school experiences.  Your SAT score should be one of them.

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