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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Timed tests are misleading: Success is a marathon, not a sprint

The new digital SAT will take two hours, instead of three, and will give students more time to answer each question.


That's a much better way to evaluate students' potential to do well in college, writes Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, in a New York Times commentary. "In school, timed tests teach kids that success is a sprint. But in life, success is a marathon."


"A race against the clock doesn’t measure knowledge or intelligence," he writes. "It assesses the much narrower skill of how well students reason under stress," and tends to underestimate students' capabilities.


Gender gaps on math tests narrow when students have more time, several dozen studies show. Female students, who "tend to work more methodically than male students," do better.


Schools typically offer extended time on tests for students with disabilities, incentivizing attempts to game the system by getting a learning disability diagnosis. That would end, writes Grant, if everyone got enough time to answer the questions.


The SAT has been giving students “too much to cover and not enough time to do it,” the College Board’s chief executive officer, David Coleman, told Grant. In pilot of the new, shorter digital test, “97 percent of students complete all questions in a section with up to seven minutes to spare on each section,” Coleman said. “It’s time we stop confusing quick with smart.”


I've spent my adult life writing on deadline. I think being able to function well under stress is a very useful skill. (And I was very good at tests in my day.) But I like the idea of giving extra time to everyone. You need to think deeply? Go ahead and see if it helps.

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6 Comments


Miller Smith
Miller Smith
Sep 26, 2023

The ability to process new information and use that information for new situations is EXACTLY the thing that should be measured for students to qualify of a limited number of places.


It is also EXACTLY what should be used for, quite literally, every job/career so that a good match can be made.


Everybody knows the Ivy League has been faking student data for five decades. That is why they are taking it on the chin so often these last two decades. They will (and seemingly are) destroy themselves if they keep it up.

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Guest
Sep 23, 2023

Timing on the SAT reading is a proxy for "How quickly can you read and understand new information," which IS a proxy for success at an elite institution. If you're expected to read and understand 200 pages a night, it helps to be able to do it in a way that still leaves time for adequate sleep. The sort of institutions that don't expect that workload don't expect high SAT scores either -- removing the time will disadvantage smart kids at schools that don't expect much reading, because colleges will be forced to go on "rigor of the high school program" instead of the kid's abilities. And poor and working class kids often don't have access to rigor in the classroom.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Sep 23, 2023
Replying to

The SAT's adoption by Harvard President James B. Conant in the 1930s was supposed to help identify highly intelligent kids in settings unlikely to send many students to the Ivy League, and so prized both quickness of learning and intellectual endurance; its transformations under David Coleman render it steadily more useless, which is also true of the transcripts such institutions rely on, due to grade inflation.

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Guest
Sep 22, 2023

Timed tests are part of all college classes. Will those change too? I operate with hard deadlines in my mundane life almost daily. Will reality bend to accommodate my needs?

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Guest
Sep 22, 2023

But people love game show knowledge. Real learning is of only use to the person who has done the work, and is hard to grade. Much better to have students do quick response with emphasis on superficial answers to get the good grade.


But little will change in education being game show responses in contrast to real learning


Here is a 10 yr old video of Prof Joseph Epstein relating a story of a cousin (who had risen to department head and passed away) who almost washed out of grad school because he didn't perform well in seminars. So, the problem has been seen by top professors decades ago, but nothing in education ever changes


https://youtu.be/JF2eJSHKKd0?t=1051

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Guest
Sep 22, 2023
Replying to

Every math professor would like to disagree with you. And one has to learn easier concepts before moving on to harder concepts. And everything from business to government to NGO work under deadlines and within limits. Get used to it.

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