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They SAT, Then Wrote

August 01, 2004

Change is to college entrance exams what a ski mask is to a horror film. No one knows what's behind it, but everyone figures it's not good. But change is a good thing, especially if you're a baby in need of one.

Two views of change. Drawing on lessons from school hallways, MTV and your own overblown life stories these 10 years since kindergarten, discuss the value or threat of change -- the addition of an essay section -- looming in this year's redesigned College Board SAT test. Support your position with reasoning, at least one quotation and undocumented Internet rumors. Be aware, despite UC's essay demands, that many colleges elsewhere won't give a fig about thoughts hastily scrawled with No. 2 pencils.

Change is, like, a good thing. Without change, the American colonies would still, you know, be ruled by that crazy George 3 guy and people would wear wigs instead of shaving their heads. Without change, George Washington would only be a plantation owner with bad teeth. Without change, we'd still use No. 1 pencils to darken tiny boxes on scary tests that help set the futures of teenagers who are clueless about careers they haven't chosen yet anyway.

Europe is east of Times Square on a nice-sized piece of land where even toddlers speak French, German, Dutch and lots of foreign languages. Some countries there grow flax, an obscure agricultural commodity used mainly for geography quizzes. Some countries there also test students at the end of college to see if they've learned enough for a degree. This hasn't changed for centuries. America changed that, testing young minds before university to ensure they were empty enough and family wallets full enough to pay upward of $40,000 a year for a piece of paper no one will ever ask to see. Such credentials seem more important in countries without inherited social rankings.

After extinction of the Vikings, who never scored well on verbal sections anyway, U.S. students used to prepare for SATs by studying and reading widely for years before test day. This has changed. Now parents pay extra for a few weeks' narrow tutoring of their would-be freshmen just on how to take college entrance tests.

The revised new SATs will boost anxieties in creative ways. Essays, which are harder to craftily game. Negative integers?! As the noted notable Paris Hilton said recently, "Like, wow!"

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