Just Numbers

Finis origine pendent. The end depends upon the beginning. One of the cornerstones of an Andover education, this motto was not what ran through my head as I sat in Davis Hall for the AP Physics Exam. I think my internal conversation went more like this: It’s 2:45 and we haven’t started the second part of the exam. We’ve been here since noon. At this rate, we won’t get out until five. I’m starving, and I have a headache. Why am I even here? Seriously, I’m not going to major in physics in college. I’m probably not even going to do very well on this exam. Did I just waste $172 of my parents’ money? I have other homework. Get me out of here! AP exams are just one part of the lucrative standardized testing culture into which we come of age. If you are a typical Andover student, you will take the SAT twice, the ACT once, three SAT II subject tests and four to five AP exams. That amounts to a minimum of 44 hours of testing and $627 dollars in fees. This isn’t counting time spent reviewing, retaking the subject tests or ACT or having a nervous breakdown. Now add in the cost of the test prep books that litter our floors and the fees to report scores. What are we at now? $800? $900? Multiply all these costs for each Andover class of, say, 325 students. That is 14,300 hours lost to testing and $260,000 if each student ends up spending $800 on exams. This doesn’t even include the PSATs or PLAN tests, nor the costs associated with a private SAT tutor or a test-prep course, which can run up into the thousands of dollars. Why are we spending all this time and money testing? The answer is, of course, college. We go to a highly competitive school, where to the naked eye, a hundred points’ difference on the SAT will make or break your chances of admission to an Ivy League school. Furthermore, we spend more time on the testing part of our college application than any other. Seriously, can you imagine spending 44 hours writing your college essay? But is standardized testing really the best representation of who we are as students and people? Test scores are numbers, but they cannot quantify the impact of an Andover education. The SAT Critical Reading section doesn’t reflect how much English 300 has improved my ability to analyze a text. The ACT only really asks me if I can read a graph, use a calculator and answer 35 questions on seven different literary passages. AP tests come the closest to evaluating our progress and advanced work, but just like any other standardized test, our success is dependent on a variety of factors. Examples of these factors are whether the History 300 paper is due that same week, or whether we were exhausted because we sat two exams in the same day. The point of an education is to learn, not to pass a test. What could we do with those 44 hours of extra time, if we did not have to submit SAT, ACT or SAT II scores to colleges? It’s not a horrendous imposition and is spread out over three or four years. However, those precious Saturday mornings during Upper year could have gone towards doing my homework with a little more attention to detail or sleeping so I’ll be focused enough to do work well. The end depends upon the beginning. Perhaps the most tragic part is that the SATs and ACTs mean so little in the end that they might as well not have been there in the beginning at all. Marilyn Harris is a two-year Upper from Colorado Springs, CO.