Column: A Standard Annoyance For Students
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT—standardized tests have more acronyms than a baseball box score. Throughout my early life I was a strong supporter of standardized tests. To me, they were the great equalizer. High school had an endless array of variables, yet across the United States, everyone took the exact same SAT. Rather than a flowery and subjective letter of recommendation, the SAT yields a single number. This score could be used to evaluate any college student across the country. In my mind, the system couldn’t be better.
This past Saturday I took the LSAT, which is used as criteria for admission to law school. I went to bed before midnight and rose before sunrise, neither of which I had done since Pluto was still considered a planet. I arrived at Boston University and went through the routine security procedure of leaving my cell phone behind, sealing my pencils in a plastic bag, submitting my fingerprints, getting a retinal scan, enduring a strip-search, and signing a loyalty oath affirming that I am not a Communist. The test itself consisted of six sections that took nearly five hours. After completing this grueling task, I ordered a gluttonous feast at McDonald’s that likely lowered my life expectancy. Then I returned home and began the long wait for my test results.
As the Chicken McNuggets and double cheeseburgers waged war against my digestive system, I pondered the usefulness of standardized tests. At first, I concluded that they are a necessary means of evaluating a huge surplus of applicants. Nearly 3 million students apply to college every year. Motivational speakers may say that every person is special, but honestly, who cares? If I were a college admissions officer, I would get sick of reading essays about how hiking up a mountain strengthened one applicant’s character or how participating in community service helped another applicant understand how people of all backgrounds are alike. It would be so much easier to gather up all the applications with SAT scores below a certain minimum level and toss them aside. Standardized test scores act as a sieve to weed out unqualified applicants, and if you are rejected, then it’s all your fault.
Later that day, though, I had a change of heart. My roommate and I got into a surprisingly vicious argument about who deserved to win the AL MVP award in baseball. He brought up a widely accepted baseball statistic, (WAR, for those who care) pointed out that one player had a vastly higher number than the other candidate, and smugly asserted that the first player clearly deserved to be MVP. I replied by calling him a stats whore and asserted that you cannot evaluate a player by using a single number. What if he inspired his teammates and led a surprising comeback to a playoff spot? Aren’t there intangible qualities that determine the value of a player?
As he bellowed out an angry response that I paid absolutely no attention to, my thoughts returned to the LSAT. Was there a connection between my baseball argument and the law school application process? Is it practical that a single three-digit standardized test score determines the entire pool of lawyers in the United States? Shouldn’t law schools put more emphasis on personal essays and interviews, which can reveal major insights into a person’s character and career skills, rather than the results of one test? As thought-provoking as these questions are, they’re ultimately meaningless to me. In three weeks I will get my LSAT score. This number will determine whether I will be an elite corporate lawyer in five years, or begging my CSOM friends to let me work part time cleaning their offices. In a country with a high input of law school applicants and a low output of legal jobs, standardized tests are a necessary evil that I must endure.