Global Diary

It’s Memorial Day: Give Your Kid a Break

The SAT bores and tortures students – and has nothing to do with education.

Credit: Cienpies Design - Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Using every awful SAT word, I made a one-page “cheat sheet” for my son to save hours of flash-card memorization.
  • “Son, please don’t belabor the point by saying over and over again that the SAT is a boring and banal test.”
  • For many U.S. kids, Memorial Day weekend means preparing for the next round of SAT tests.
  • Each year 1.6 million American students take or re-take the SAT exam in 7,000 test centers in 170 countries.
  • In Finland the SAT-type exam is almost non-existent, and educational performance is soaring.
  • You only get one shot at China’s “gaokao” exam once a year.

Memorial Day in America means sizzling steaks, grilled hot dogs, sloppy coleslaw and salty potato chips. Pools open. Schools close. The weather (we hope) brings whiffs of sunscreen and sand.

But for many high school kids across America, this weekend means buckling down and preparing for the next round of SAT tests — the academic rite of passage — a painful college preparation test — often taken multiple times by eager students hoping to score the equivalent of the NBA playoff game win and to get into an Ivy League college.

The land of the test

Each year 1.6 million American students take or re-take the SAT exam offered in 7,000 test centers in 170 countries around the world.

America is the most standardized test-crazed country on the planet. (Not only do we have the SAT but a rival exam, the ACT, which slightly more students these days take.)

Standards around the world

Europeans have national exams and A-level exams, but they are not the end-all, must-take ticket to higher education.

In Europe, for example, standardized tests are often for special needs assessments, counseling or comparing schools and placement. Many European educators are questioning the value of these generic tests. In some European countries, like Finland, the SAT-type exam is almost non-existent. Educational performance in that country is soaring.

China offers the “gaokao,” which is the National Higher Education Entrance Exam. Unlike the American SAT, you only get one shot at it once a year. It is rumored to be harder than anything the United States offers.

Making the standard less stale

In the United States, the SAT test is finally getting a facelift. The College Board has announced an overhaul to parts of the exam — an admission that the test has serious flaws. By 2016 there will be big changes such as dropping the writing section and overhauling the vocabulary section.

The College Board is conscious of the critics who say that the SAT exam widens the income-educational disparity in America by both charging for the test and for distribution of scores to colleges. So it is also planning to waive the fees for disadvantaged applicants so they can apply to four schools at no charge.

That doesn’t really address the high costs of preparing for the SAT exam, with private tutors and test service providers charging astronomical fees. To address that issue, the College Board is now partnering with the Khan Academy to offer free online practice problems and instructional videos — with the answers!

A vocabulary corollary

As for that dreaded vocabulary section, it remains the bane of every young person’s existence. Right now, the test gauges knowledge and recall of irrelevant, outdated and impossible-to-pronounce obscure words.

Things got so bad in my household that I ended up preparing a one page “cheat sheet” for my teenager to save him hours of flash card memorization. I used every awful word in a single document.

In a Memorial Day act of generosity, I am sharing the one-page letter with all readers of The Globalist:

My Dear Son,

My PROPHETIC dream is that you only have to take this test once because taking it tomorrow will be a SALUTARY (beneficial) experience and sitting there for 4 hours will not be a boring, PEDANTIC (academic) experience that only scholars endure.

I know you will not be in a TORPOR tomorrow as you will get up early and therefore not be LANGUOROUS or lacking in energy although you might be a bit CANTANKEROUS because of the early hour but I will MOLLIFY you with kisses and hugs.

The QUIESCENCE of the morning will make you composed and IMPERTURBABLE rather than QUERULOUS and argumentative. Be neatly dressed tomorrow — no SLOVENLY appearance.

You have a RUDIMENTARY knowledge of almost everything so I know you will do well. AFTER the SAT, a feeling of LASSITUDE or listlessness or languor or weariness may come over and you might be languid or lacking in energy, so we will NOT plan anything big for Saturday afternoon.

Knowing you, however, the exhaustion of the exam will be an ephemeral short-lived exhaustion and you will feel generous and benevolent and MUNIFICENT and not be CAUSTIC or SULLEN but joyous and JOCULAR and EBULILENT.

Don’t come home hating the SAT board and become a MISANTHROPE who hates people and wants to live in a despondent, depressed state of NIHILISM living a TRANSIENT life that is TRACTABLE and not easy to manage.

Show your resilience and ALACRITY, be loud, sonorous and vociferous in your praise instead of being harsh and vitriolic.

Don’t come home and be PICAYUNE and pick at every petty little paltry problem in a PEFUNCTORY or superficial way because then I will know that your PERFIDY — or deliberate breach of trust — left you sad and BEREFT of good ideas and I will mock you and DERIDE you for being full of complaints or QUERULOUS.

Now let’s hope the weather cooperates and we have TEMPERATE climate so that conditions are PRISTINE with no PRODIGIOUS amounts of snow. When you come home, we shall have a POLEMICAL discussion with disputes and controversies over the value of this entire SAT business.

May your MELLIFLOUS voice bring us SONOROUS sounds of joy tomorrow at the mere thought that you will not be using flash cards to learn words anymore.

PS: Now please don’t BELABOR the point by saying over and over again that the SAT is a boring and BANAL test.

Just be CONTRITE and show remorse for having been so INTRANSIGENT about these vocabulary exercises. I expect non-stop praise and ADULATION.

Happy Memorial Day, Mom

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About Tara Sonenshine

Tara Sonenshine is the former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is on the board of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group.

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