The SAT is an infamous test in the halls of high schools: upon reaching the 11th grade it is a rite of passage to register and ask your friends: “How did you do on the practice test?” It is the test of fear: answer 44 math questions in two 25 minute intervals and 10 in another 20 minute interval. The test does not seek to find your level of intelligence; rather, the SAT quizzes you on your ability to test.
So how fair is it to test teenagers on how well they can sit down for four hours and think? Some children who believe they are not so good at this study every day like madmen in order to reach that 2000 point mark- but like the child Icarus, they fly too high to the sun and their wings melt.
And thus, it is soon realized by each and every SAT test-taker: those who handle pressure the best are able to do the best. Some people are able to thrive under stressful or competitive circumstances, but some crumble. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman of the New York Times argue that this dilemma is due to what genes you inherit and what sort of enzyme in your brain makes you tick. The main gene, the COMT gene, codes for two different sorts of enzymes that clear away dopamine from the prefrontal cortex. “That part of the brain is where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts.” [i] One type of enzyme tends to work faster, the other works slower.
Those with an enzyme that clears dopamine slower tend to have the advantage- they tend to think clearer and make better decisions. Those with the faster enzyme are more of the “crash and burn” type. However, in a stressful setting, the roles are completely reversed. This is due to the flood of dopamine that stress so unkindly donates to the prefrontal cortex. The surge in dopamine is what the people with fast-acting enzymes require: a stressful environment puts them in their element.
Your grade on the SAT is based on the genes your parents gave you, not your own cognitive ability. Due to the stress during the SAT, some people cannot function as they would in a classroom. Teenagers with straight A’s can score a 1600 on the SAT. The pressure on these kids increases; as colleges become harder to get into, the SAT is seen as the last hope. Students don’t concentrate on their studies in order to focus on the SAT. “Sure, you did your homework and wrote a great history report- but this test is going to find out how smart you really are.”[ii]
So how fair is the SAT? Not fair at all.
[i] Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?” The New York Times.10 Feb. 2013. Website.
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