The SAT’s recursive meaning

If it weren’t for the god awful Analysis comp I’ll be taking on Saturday (and should be studying for now), I would certainly be going to EDcampNYC, the local unconference for teachers and the like. Anna and Justin will be going without me and leading a session or two about mathematical art stuff. If you go, you should definitely check out their session(s). Especially if you’re into making beautiful stuff. (Speaking of mathematical art, I have about 2400 words written about MArTH Madness, the huge math art event we hosted at Saint Ann’s. Must add pics. Coming soon.)

Anyhow, let me tell you about Mai Li. She’s an amazing young mathematician in our mathematical art seminar. She’s also opted out of Trig/Analysis for her junior year in favor of Intro Topology and Modern Algebra electives with Anna and a semester course called Fractals and Chaos. She helped lead the doodling sessions at MArTH Madness, and she just rocks in general. Well, as much as she would love to come help them share MArTH with the people at EDcampNYC, she can’t. She has to take the SAT’s.

No big deal. Whatever. She has to take them. It’s fine, but too bad. All of this is just the setup for some clever little thing that Justin said in our office the other day.

* * *

Q: You know what SAT stands for right?

A: The SAT Aptitude Test.

HA! Love it. It used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” but I think they’ve abandoned that. (I wonder why?) I looked over some videos and stuff on the college board site, but I couldn’t find my answer. I did find this, however:

“the combination of high school grades and SAT scores is the best predictor of your academic success in college.”

hmm. Do you buy that?

The problem that I have with the SAT, in particular the math section, is that it cannot test for the applicants ability to do math. If you disagree, it’s simply that we have different notions of what it means to “do math.” I’m not gonna get too deep into this, because I’m mostly writing just to share Justin’s little meme, which might otherwise be lost forever.

“SAT Aptitude Test” is a fitting acronym, because the SAT is only really testing your ability to succeed on the SAT itself. Infer what you will. When students need to prepare, they don’t get a math tutor. They get an SAT math tutor. Could the inauthenticity be any more obvious? The biggest criticism of my department (accurate or not) is that we don’t adequately prepare students for this test. Perhaps that’s only further evidence of my point, since our primary objective is doing real mathematics with students as often as we possibly can. [disclaimer: I am not a spokesman for the school.]

What do the SAT’s demand for success? Technical training, perhaps, which is only one aspect of a mathematical education. Maybe most of all, SAT success requires SAT experience.

Want to prove that you’re SAT apt? Why not practice with the SAT aptitude test? Get it?

* * *

OK that’s it. This is just something I’ve been thinking over and really enjoying. Thank you, Justin for your unending nerdly wit.

Oh by the way, we can keep expanding SAT and get the following, all of which are the same thing:


The SAT Aptitude Test

The (SAT Aptitude Test) Aptitude Test

The [(SAT Aptitude Test) Aptitude Test] Aptitude Test…

and on and on.

* * *

Good luck students, and try to remember it’s a collection of paper and ink. Don’t let it shake you too hard.


6 responses to “The SAT’s recursive meaning

  1. Ha, fantastic! That is quite witty indeed. Another thing the SAT is an indicator for is the wealth of the test takers family.

    Here is the TED talk where I first heard about it (it’s a great one btw):

    And here is the chart with data Daniel Pink compiled showing it:

  2. The combination of SAT scores and high school GPA is still the best predictor of college grades that admissions officers have found. Various tweaks are often added to admissions formulas to get a more balanced class, but adding various additional components doesn’t improve the regression fits significantly. (Sorry, I don’t have a citation handy—I think this was from an internal document I saw 5-10 years ago.)

    SAT scores are certainly highly correlated with SES (socio-economic status), but SAT and GPA are a better predictor of college success than SES is.

    Note: GPA alone used to be a better predictor than SAT alone, but I believe that grade inflation is slowly robbing GPA of its predictive value (when over half the class gets As, then getting As doesn’t mean much any more).

    • I certainly understand the statistics that are being pointed to, but what about my students? They don’t get grades. They’re insufficiently prepared for the SATs, or so I hear. What does that say about them?

      I guess I’m just not that interested in statistical correlation between grades here and grades there.

      • If your students don’t get grades, then their SAT scores are about the only data the admissions officers have to determine whether they are suitable for admission to their colleges. If the students’ SAT scores are weak, then only very unselective colleges are likely to accept them. The unselective colleges tend to provide a lower level of education than the selective ones, so may not be the best fit for your top students.

        If you have students who are good at doing math, I would recommend that they have other evidence besides just the SAT test to show that, since the SAT test really only goes through about 10th grade math (I know a student who got over 700 on the SAT at the end of 6th grade). SAT II math 2 is a slightly higher level, and AP Calculus higher still. These tests do a somewhat better job of showing whether students can do math. Even better are the AMC-10 and AMC-12 tests, though college admissions officers are less likely to know about them.

      • I think you’re either goading me on, or you thought I was asking how they could legitimize their learning with scores. Despite how admissions may operate, I don’t believe scores like this legitimize learning. Our students can definitely substantiate their ability in nonstandard ways, by doing remarkable work and sharing it.

        Looking to the AMC, SAT, ACT, NYML, AIME, SATII, or AP tests for validation is a mistake if what you care about is learning and doing mathematics. My primary critique of these contests is that they do not evaluate a student’s ability to do math. Primarily because authentic mathematical experiences are not regularly found in high-pressure, timed environments with strict restraints to ensure intellectual isolation.

        As far as college admissions, many of our students do attend “good colleges,” including Ivy League schools and renown liberal arts colleges etc., despite having never received grades, and perhaps even in the face of low SAT scores. We don’t provide much data at all for admissions, certainly no scores or ways to rank or sort our kids, but the pages and pages of anecdotal reports can provide a really rich and detailed sense of the student. Is that not better?

        Thanks for your comments as always. You give me the best push back, and I really appreciate it.

  3. I agree with you that grades and exam scores can be quite meaningless, and that none of the exams really get at math ability. My point was just that a lot of colleges don’t know how else to judge math ability—the admissions officers have too little math to be able to judge a portfolio.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s