Many students who took the SAT last weekend are complaining about a reality TV based question. Image: Flickr / -marlith- / CC-BY-ND

The SAT test is always stressful for high school students. The test is known for measuring students on their memorization and understanding of a wide variety of subjects. The fact that the most recent SAT asked a question about reality TV, however, is leaving many students frustrated.

SAT Reality TV question

On the most recent SAT test, one of the three essay topics available was about reality TV. The question was worded carefully, asking:

How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

Later in the prompt, the test provided basic information for students who are not familiar with reality TV in saying “Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.” The question was intended to prompt a 25-minute essay that displays logic, reasoning and writing ability.

The SAT face lift

In 2008, the SAT test underwent a significant face lift. The types of questions and scoring of the essays have been adjusted several times in an attempt to create a more accurate picture of student’s potential and academic achievement. The test has been accused in the past of having significant cultural and income bias, where Caucasian, high-income students get higher scores on the SAT.

Demographic information, however, shows that reality TV tends to be watched more by nearly 60 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds, making the SAT reality TV question culturally relevant.

The challenge of measuring learning

Standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT, have long been used to measure student achievement and potential. Education funding in the United States is being heavily weighted towards performance on standardized tests in schools as early as first and second grade.

The challenge, however, is that learning and memorization are two different skills. While standardized tests measure the amount of information a student can memorize, learning and problem-solving are functions of creativity and problem-solving — things that are much more difficult to standardize. The SAT essay questions attempt to address this disparity by asking students to creatively answer a question they may or may not know much about.


New York Times

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