Education, Privilege, recent, Recommended, Science / Tech

Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing

On Tuesday, March 12 2019, federal prosecutors exposed a crooked college admissions consulting operation that bribed SAT administrators and college athletic coaches in order to get wealthy, underqualified applicants into elite universities. Also charged were 33 wealthy parents who had paid for admissions bribes, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, Gordon Caplan, a co-chair of the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pimco.

As this story unfolds, there will be numerous takes and analyses about what the exposure of such widespread corruption in college admissions could mean. People are going to say that this scandal is proof that the meritocracy is broken and corrupt. And it’s likely that many commentators will use this event as an opportunity to attack the SAT and the ACT. Progressives view test-based admissions as inequitable because some marginalized groups are significantly underrepresented among the pool of top-scoring college applicants. But millionaires and elites also hate standardized admissions tests, because their children’s admission to top colleges is contingent upon test scores.

Under pressure from both the academic left and wealthy parents, hundreds of colleges have become “test optional,” allowing students to submit applications without test scores. Some elite schools, including Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr and the University of Chicago have adopted these policies.

It is absolutely true that the SAT is the reason this scandal occurred. But for standardized testing requirements, the millionaires and celebrities charged in this scheme would not have needed to search for “side doors” to get their children into elite colleges; they could have walked right in through the front.

Here’s what arguments against testing look like

A short viral Twitter thread from actress, playwright and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, which amassed over 20,000 likes, indicates one way this scandal will be used to attack meritocracy:

Zoe Kazan is a talented writer, and in three short tweets here, she manages to:

  1. Remind everyone that she went to Yale and graduated with honors from its theatre program,
  2. Check her privilege by acknowledging that she would not have been admitted to Yale if she hadn’t had the resources to pay for an expensive SAT tutor who helped raise her math score 200 points,
  3. Suggest that her Yale classmates who got in on the basis of stellar SAT scores also owe their admission to privilege, rather than extraordinary aptitude or effort, and
  4. Dunk on Jared Kushner, who was famous for buying admission to Harvard long before his father-in-law was elected president.

Zoe’s arguments don’t hold up, however, and her experience is actually a perfect encapsulation of why standardized tests are so important, and why it is necessary to defend the meritocracy against assaults from elites who would prefer not to have to participate in a competitive admissions process.

This argument falls apart on examination

Opponents of tests like to argue that tests primarily measure socioeconomic status and parental resources, but it’s not true that rich parents unfairly distort the college admissions process by outspending other people on test prep. There’s not a clear causal relationship between income and test scores, and there’s no evidence that expensive test prep gets better results than cheap or free alternatives.

According to data released by The College Board, the median SAT test taker in 2013 scored a 496 on the SAT’s critical reading section and a 514 on the math. The median student whose family earns less than $20,000 will score a 435 on the critical reading section and a 462 on math, considerably below average. Students from families earing $60,000-80,000 perform similarly to the overall distribution, and median scores continue to rise about 10 points for every marginal $20,000 of family income. The median student from a family earning more than $200,000 per year scores a 565 on critical reading and a 586 on math. The richest students perform a little more than half a standard deviation above average, while the poorest perform a bit more than half a standard deviation below.

But while it’s true that higher-income students get better scores on average and lower-income students do worse, it doesn’t necessarily follow that money raises test scores. This is a mere correlation, and, as anyone who did well on the SAT knows, correlation doesn’t imply causation.

SAT scores correlate strongly enough with IQ that the SAT is interchangeable with IQ as a test of general cognitive ability. Cognitive ability is highly heritable; the single strongest predictor of a child’s IQ is the IQ of the child’s parents. There is also a correlation between income and IQ. That means smarter than average parents are likely to have smarter than average kids and higher than average incomes.

The educational attainment of an SAT taker’s parents is about as strongly correlated with higher scores as high income is; the median student whose parents hold graduate degrees scores a 560 on critical reading and a 576 on math, only slightly lower than the richest students in the dataset by income, and a full standard deviation higher than students whose parents hold only high school diplomas.

There’s also little support for the contention that inequalities in access to test prep is the mechanism by which richer students secure their advantage.

It is true that prep can help; working practice tests can help students get comfortable with the tested concepts and get familiar with the test format and the way the test writers reason. Practicing can also improve the speed at which testers can work the problems, and help them become more confident and comfortable taking the test.

However, it has never been true that poorer students lack access to test prep; most students prepare for the SAT, and high quality materials and practice questions drawn from old tests have been available in inexpensive test-prep books for decades. In 2015 the College Board partnered with Kahn Academy to provide free online test prep resources, and about 60% of test takers now utilize the free official test-prep resources.

Despite what commercial test prep companies might claim in their marketing materials, there is no evidence that expensive commercial prep materials or private tutoring yield better results than test prep with inexpensive practice materials or the free official online resources.

It’s worth noting that the scores most rich kids and most children of highly educated parents earn are still far too low to get into elite colleges. The median child from a family earning $200,000 scores an 1151, which puts you in the bottom half of the admitted class at a school like Ole Miss or University of Alabama, and is far short of the 1500 earned by the median student who enrols at Yale.

If rich people could just spend their way to high test scores, then they wouldn’t be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe their way into elite schools.

Zoe Kazan checks her privilege, but not all of it

While her assertions about money and access to expensive test prep don’t stand up to scrutiny, it’s particularly ridiculous for Zoe Kazan to claim that the primary privilege factor — the “systemic leg up” — that secured her Yale admission was her ability to pay for SAT tutoring.

Zoe Kazan’s parents are Hollywood writer/director Nicholas Kazan and screenwriter Robin Swicord. Nicholas’s father — Zoe’s grandfather — was legendary director Elia Kazan, who made On the Waterfront, East of Eden and A Streetcar Named Desire. Elia Kazan’s wife was the playwright Molly Day Thacher. Elia and Molly met while they were students at Yale, and Molly was, as it happens, the granddaughter of the revered Yale professor and administrator Thomas Anthony Thacher, who was a descendant of the Rev. Thomas Buckingham of Saybrook, one of Yale’s founders.

Legacy applicants — the children or grandchildren of alumni — get an admissions advantage worth about 160 SAT points. By contrast, the median student with a family income over $200,000 scores about 140 points higher than the median student in the overall dataset. Another way to describe the legacy advantage is that legacies get in if they can score at the 95th percentile, while unhooked applicants must score above the 99th percentile.  But “legacy” is insufficient to describe Zoe Kazan’s pedigree. She’s something closer to royalty at Yale. When an applicant like this comes before an admissions committee, they will be very motivated to admit her.

What is extraordinary is that she almost didn’t get in. The test score bar is much lower for special cases like hers, but there’s still a bar, and she had to struggle and cram and hire an expensive tutor to get over it, and she had to sweat out her college admission just like the rest of us. And there are other applicants who are the children and grandchildren of exalted and famous families who can’t get their scores high enough, and they don’t get in, and that means there are more seats at schools like Yale that are available to the rest of us.

You can tell an objective, meritocratic system is working when it pushes out people that the establishment would prefer to admit (people like Zoe Kazan), and it admits the people that the establishment would prefer to reject (Jews and Asians). It is phenomenal that CEOs and power brokers and celebrities are getting indicted for desperately trying to bribe someone to get their mediocre kids into good schools, because that means meritocratic systems are throwing barriers in front of the children of elites when they can’t compete on an objective test.

There’s a reason Zoe is attacking the SAT rather other controversial aspects of the college admissions process like the preferential treatment of legacies: Testing impedes the success of people like her.  If Yale goes test-optional, what else is there in the admissions portfolio that could possibly scuttle the application of somebody like Zoe Kazan? When millionaires and celebrities attack the testing establishment, they pretend to do so on behalf of the marginalized and disadvantaged, but they really want to destroy the SAT because it is the only mechanism by which your kid can get into an elite college ahead of their kid.  Even if you assume, for the purpose of argument, that Zoe Kazan is right in her claim that standardized tests give “a systemic leg up” to “upper middle class” applicants who can afford commercial prep services, what is the alternative?

Without some semblance of competitive admissions based on objective criteria like standardized test scores, a college like Yale becomes an exclusive nightclub and the admissions committee is just a bouncer. People like Zoe Kazan — the children of senators and governors and CEOs and celebrities — get to walk right in. They’re on the VIP list. And the rest of us have to wait our turn for the bouncer to look us over and subjectively decide if we’re cool enough or hot enough.


Daniel Friedman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old, Don’t Ever Look Back and Riot Most Uncouth. Follow him on Twitter @DanFriedman81 

Featured image: Zoe Kazan at the New York Film Critic Series screening of “What If”


  1. Thank the Lord for sensible analyses like this, on a case that ideological nuts are going to distort the meaning of to suit their convoluted purposes.

    Standardized tests are still doing what they were invented to do when Jews were kept out of the Ivies: to give an objective picture of an applicant’s aptitude. Those who don’t see that are blinded by ideology.

    • Joe says

      Very good analysis indeed… a few items I would offer in addition to what the author has here:

      (1) Income correlates to higher SAT scores for a very strong reason, i.e., those children get to go to superior K-12 education institutions (more A.P. courses offered for example).

      (2) Gimmicks to increase lower income students generally fail, not in the sense that they were admitted, but that there’s a very high attrition rate. They were not prepared over the years for college rigor (see #1). If we want fairness in admissions, it starts with fairness at the K-12 level (and good family life — a whole different but important card to have in your hand growing up).

      • markbul says

        “Income correlates to higher SAT scores for a very strong reason, i.e., those children get to go to superior K-12 education institutions …”

        No. Absolutely not. Read the peer reviewed literature – it’s massive. Or just try any of the many books that summarize the subject. Kids go to ‘better’ schools because their parents are intelligent enough to earn enough money to live in towns with ‘great’ schools. This has been shown without doubt by behavior genetics research over the last few decades. Your assertion is simply ignorance repeated. You are an intelligence science denier.

        • Agreed. Few people understand statistics and fewer yet understand genetics. Those attacking the SAT, which was invented to allow the poor but intelligent students to reach better education, have also participated in the dumbing down that it has undergone the past 50 years. Along with that, grade inflation has protected the unprepared from the consequences. When I took the SAT, many years ago, you were not told the result and there were no prep courses.

        • IssacNewton says

          I had heard the correlation between SAT score and Income was around .3 (9% of the variance). The subject matter your select has huge impacts, engineers (on average) with out-earn English majors. This SAT to future income correlation does not have a huge impact.

          There is a correlation between family income and student SAT scores. Again, I head it is at the .3 level (I am recalling from the Bell Curve). A lot of this appears be genetic, bright well-educated parents produce bright well-educated children. The genetic competent based on twin studies estimates is around .2 (correlation). Basically, the distribution of IQ within a family is about the same as in the general population. However, the medians can be different.

          Family Income, and Genetics have impacts (.2 – .3 correlations) on IQ/SAT scores, but it is not huge. SAT scores have a .3 correlation with future income, but there is a huge variation an a lot of room left for individual effort (I think).

          • cassandra says

            To say that the correlation is genetic is misleading. If one child from your bright, well-educated household was removed at birth, and sent to live with a single mother in the Gorbals, would she perform as well as her brothers and sisters? I doubt it.

            Of course there is a gentic, or perhaps more fairly inherited element to intelligence, but nuture plays a strong role, too. Any dog breeder knows that.

          • Yawnz says

            How convenient that you leave out the other part of your hypothetical situation. If you take a kid from a “bright, well-educated household” and put them with “a single mother in the Gorbals”, that child would still likely perform better than any other children around her.

            Zero people here are claiming that the “nurture” aspect has no effect, but so far research has shown that genetics plays an equal, if not larger part in determining intelligence, performance, etc. Saying “that the correlation is genetic” is only “misleading” to those that either willfully ignore the research, or simply lack the capacity to understand it.


            And before you (or folks other than you) sperg out about Wikipedia, please remember that there are citations at the bottom that you can view at your leisure. It makes no sense to link them all individually when a single Wiki link will suffice.

      • Thylacine says

        I have been making the point for 3 decades that injustice (or inequality of opportunity) must be attacked at the level at which it occurs. It only adds injustice to injustice when you try to “correct” for a deficiency earlier in the stream with preferential treatment later.

  2. Umm. Working class can’t send their smart kid there without the smart kid incurring tons of debt.

    We have ACT here and I would love to know who writes the questions. Some in those circles have whispered to me that they are out of work graduate

    • Optional says

      No student from Princeton is expected to take on debt. 97% graduate debt free.
      Any student with parents making less than $100k goes to Princeton for free (room and board too).

      • Heike says

        Working class can’t get into Princeton. Not a culture fit, you see. Not the right extra-curriculars. Not the right race. In fact, the entire reason places like Princeton exist is to keep far, far away from the working class deplorables.

        • GrumpyBear says

          You have no idea what you’re talking about.

          Elite schools with money love low-income, working class, preferred minority students. They brag about supporting them and how much help they offer them. One of their favorite metrics is “first generation of family to go to college” – it’s on the Princeton website; 15% of their incoming class are 1st generation college students. In fact the best way to get into Princeton is to be low income, minority, first generation in college. If your dad is in prison and you had to take care of your younger siblings, that’s a big plus too – the Ivies will fall over themselves trying to get you.

          Of course the legacies and senators’ kids have an advantage. But taking that to mean “working class can’t get it” is ridiculous.

          • mitch novin says

            How are they “working class” ??? Are these first generation,low income, and minority students coming from families with anyone that actually works???? Only the progressives call the “non-working class” working class. How many students get accepted at Harvard or Yale with a carpenter father and a hair dresser mother ?? Okay…I’ll give you the answer….NONE !!! The actual working class, i.e deplorables are DETESTED at Yale and Harvard. It is YOU who have no idea what you are talking about… you POS.

          • GrumpyBear says

            @ mitch novin
            You may prefer yelling at me, and we apparently disagree about the definition of “working class”; either is fine. But what I’m saying is true.

            CNN did a profile ( on high school students who were admitted to all eight Ivy League schools One is white from South Dakota, the other a second-generation immigrant from Ghana. Neither are elite in any way.

            And from today, new FAQ about the scandal, again bragging that 20% of their incoming students have parents who did not go to college (e.g. carpenters and hairdressers):

            The nationwide news has reinforced perceptions that selective colleges only cater to the elite, the wealthy, the connected. What is Stanford’s perspective on this?

            Many people don’t know about the focus that many selective colleges, including Stanford, place on providing opportunity to students who are not wealthy or do not have a family history of attending college. We conduct extensive outreach efforts to encourage applications to Stanford from high-achieving students of all backgrounds. At Stanford, nearly 20 percent of our admitted students each year are the first generation in their family to attend college.

            Financial aid is also a critical part of our approach to accessibility for students of all backgrounds and means. Stanford admits U.S. students without regard to their ability to pay, and the university provides financial aid such that every student admitted to Stanford can afford to attend. Families with annual incomes of under $125,000 pay no tuition at Stanford, and 82 percent of our students graduate without any student debt to follow them.

          • Mindy Weiner says

            Agreed. My husbands and my incomes combined was 65k a year. Son grafuated from Yale almost debt ftee. He’s now at Princeton and being paid a nice stipend ib grad school.
            Younger son at state school will graduate 30k in debt
            Anecdotal but not uncommon .

          • Gringo says


            You have no idea what you’re talking about.Elite schools with money love low-income, working class, preferred minority students.

            Elite universities are admissions-friendly to minorities of lower socioeconomic status , but NOT admissions-friendly to whites of lower socioeconomic status. If you are a member of a minority and of lower socioeconomic status, you are more likely to be admitted to an elite university than minorities of higher of lower socioeconomic status. By contrast, whites of higher socioeconomic status are three times more likely to be admitted than whites of lower of lower socioeconomic status.NYT: The Roots of White Anxiety. Douthat summarizes Espenshade’s and Radford ‘s study of affirmative action at 8 elite universities.

            Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in.
            But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.
            This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.

            In addition, while elite universities place a lot of importance on applicants’ extracurricular activities, many activities that rural or working class whites participate in do not help, but actually hurt their chances at being admitted to an elite university.

            . Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

            Class bias from admissions offices? Yes, indeed.

            This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions.

            According to admissions offices at elite universities, downscale minorities are good, but downscale whites are bad.

          • Gringo says


            blockquote>Elite schools with money love low-income, working class, preferred minority students. They brag about supporting them and how much help they offer them. One of their favorite metrics is “first generation of family to go to college” – it’s on the Princeton website; 15% of their incoming class are 1st generation college students.It’s more sizzle than steak. The Ivies may have some selective favoring of lower socioeconomic minorities, but overall the preference is for the elite- even at your example of Princeton.NYT: Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours./a>

            At 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League – Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown – more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.

            The top ten in economic disparities are private universities with smaller endowments than the Ivies, such as #10 Tufts, which has 18.6% in the top 1% and 11.8% in the bottom 60%. Even with their higher endowments- enabling the universities pay for poorer students- there are 5 ivies in the top 38.

          • Gringo says



            You have no idea what you’re talking about.

            Elite schools with money love low-income, working class, preferred minority students.


            blockquote>. Yes, lower SES minorities are more likely to be admitted to elite universities than higher SES minorities ( see my previous comment) but overall. richer is better- much better- when it comes to getting into the Ivies.Surprise: The 1% Is Overrepresented in the Ivy League.

            If your parents count themselves among the top 1%, you’re 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than your peers from families in the bottom 20% of the U.S.’ income distribution. So much for meritocracy and equal access.

            That’s according to the new research by Stanford economist Raj Chetty and co-authors. They show that 14.5% of students in America’s elite universities (eight Ivy League colleges, University of Chicago, Stanford, MIT, and Duke) are from families in the top 1% of income distribution, compared with only 3.8% from the bottom quintile. That’s a dramatic overrepresentation of the richest Americans

            Seventy seven times more likely to attend an Ivy League college it your parents are in the top 1% than if your parents are in the bottom 20%. That says it all.

        • Gringo says


          Working class can’t get into Princeton. Not a culture fit, you see. Not the right extra-curriculars. Not the right race. In fact, the entire reason places like Princeton exist is to keep far, far away from the working class deplorables


          You have no idea what you’re talking about.

          Elite schools with money love low-income, working class, preferred minority students. They brag about supporting them and how much help they offer them.

          Elite universities are admissions-friendly to minorities of lower socioeconomic status, but NOT admissions-friendly to whites of lower socioeconomic status, a.k.a. the Deplorables.From Douthat’s NYT: The Roots of White Anxiety., we learn the following If you are a member of a minority and of lower socioeconomic status, you are more likely to be admitted to an elite university than minorities of higher of lower socioeconomic status. By contrast, whites of higher socioeconomic status are three times more likely to be admitted than whites of lower of lower socioeconomic status.

          In addition, many extracurricular activities that lower socioeconomic status whites- especially rural whites- might choose actually work AGAINST their chances of admission.

          . Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

          Class bias from admissions offices? Yes, indeed.According to admissions offices at elite universities, downscale minorities are good, but downscale whites are bad.
          (Previous comment not accepted, so I cut a lot of material off.)

          • mitch novin says

            Thank you Gringo for pointing out the real truth to the elitist snobs that permeate this board. Sadly, it shows how effective propaganda by CNN, MSNBC ,and most of the MSM media has been in demonizing the working class. As an aside to grumpy….CNN is actively working 24 hours a day to demonize and destroy the middle and working classes, so any stats provided by them should be seriously questioned. If you don’t believe that than i have a race hoax to sell you.

          • gda says

            Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Hispanic Studies abound.

            Not so much, Cracker Studies.

    • This article appears more about the the US, but the general problem of over educating people unfit for higher learning.

      Fifty years ago, in my country young people could not attend high school without sitting an exam so difficult that it took a year of intensive tutorials at the age of fourteen, which was provided free by the state.

      The exam was called “Scholarship ”

      If, and only if you passed, the state was willing to provide you a scholarship to continue your education.

      If after a year you did not pass the public exam, and unless your parents were wealthy enough for one of a few fee paying places.

      You received no more education, full stop, good bye.

    • Steve R. says

      Smart kids go somewhere else for free. My daughter had a 34 ACT score (approx 1520 SAT) and went to a “no name” school on full scholarship. She later received a 177 (out of 180) on the LSAT, was admitted to Harvard Law, but attended a top 20 law school for free. She is in her early 30’s, has no debt, and worked for a big law firm (Wilson Sonsini) prior to becoming an in house counsel.

      • Thank you for pointing this out. The real tragedy is that certain instiutions have been able to manipulate the public consciousness to the extent to they have, when the reality is that talent is so disparately spread across our country. Saying this as an Ivy alum

    • Yawnz says

      Great false dichotomy. Princeton isn’t the only college in existence, and most (if not all) public schools have academic scholarships that will pay either half or all of an applicant’s tuition, housing, and book expenses based on ACT/SAT performance and GPA.

    • Yale has one admission requirement no matter the major. Also Yale doesn’t have a theatrical degree. Its undergrad theatre program is largely theoretical. What it has is opportunity.

      • Optional says

        Yale has a “holistic” admission standard – meaning none at all. As does Harvard.
        This is how Malia Obama, football players, rich kids, and affirmative action admits get in.
        There is a lawsuit about it right now at Harvard. Lots of juicy facts from it.

        • George G says

          @ Optional

          do you have any links to the juicy facts? is this the same case that Asians students started as their higher scores were being discriminated against ?
          I live on the other side of the planet so I’m only asking out of curiosity

          • MarkM says

            Yes, the lawsuit he’s referring to was brought by “Students for Fair Admissions” against Harvard and primarily is using the discrimination against asian applicants to try to get the current admission processes changed.

        • mitch novin says

          Quite right Optional. I grew up close to Harvard. One quickly learns at a young age who and what inhabits that place. Big $ and and big PULL….”might makes right” and never forget it. We truly are the deplorables…which makes them the detestable. Check out the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and all the wonderful things they do for “humanity”….nothing..but quite a bit of resume padding, preening,huge salaries, and posing with photogenic poverty stricken people in Africa.

          • Joseph Ratliff says

            mitch novin,

            Let’s say you got into Harvard, free ride, no money needed. What would you do? What would your major be? Your minor? What career would you pursue?


            With sites like Khan Academy etc. (There are a bunch) … do you think you could accomplish close to the same thing?

            All of these questions boil down to…

            Why is Harvard so important?

  3. Excellent central point. I especially love the point about Zoe Kazan and how she should have been a shoe-in. (I wouldn’t call her royalty though; I’d call her aristocracy. True royalty, like Obama’s or Gates’s kid, would get in regardless of their SAT scores. Not making any accusations. But that’s true royalty.)

    I’ve been an SAT tutor for over 10 years now. A very motivated student can tutor themselves–there’s a ton of inexpensive material (or free online). However I do have to say that having a tutor helps if you’re like the majority of kids who can’t teach themselves. But what also helps are family values. I once tutored a kid whose large extended Asian family lived in a single house. The house had almost no furniture as they couldn’t afford it yet. What it did have was a) a new piano and b) me, the tutor. So this is about values as well–where you put your money. Asians as a whole perform very well on the SAT even though they are disproportionately lower socioeconomic, first generation, immigrants, because of their values. At the other end, I can tutor a student till I’m blue in the face, but if they and their parents don’t really value the high score and the work needed to get there, their scores don’t improve.

    As far as fairness–SAT is deliberately constructed so that students with crappy math classes in a rural district say, can still do well; it emphasizes logical deduction and close reading, skills needed in college and also skills that you can develop yourself.

    As far as the cheating–this has been going on forever. Usually it’s with a wink-wink. I was surprised how unsophisticated these people were; usually it’s more an understanding – e.g. a large donation earlier – as opposed to an outright bribe.

    It isn’t fair. Kids with poor home environments won’t do as well statistically, for instance. But yes, the SAT is a leveler largely, as opposed to, say, having a very famous parent the college would love. Life isn’t fair, something many progressives seem to not fully absorb.

    • George G says

      @ d
      ” As far as the cheating–this has been going on forever. Usually it’s with a wink-wink. I was surprised how unsophisticated these people were; usually it’s more an understanding – e.g. a large donation earlier – as opposed to an outright bribe.”

      that’s what struck me about this case, not that celebrities/ elites were buying their kids way in but that they were so inept at disguising what they were doing.

    • Anonymous says

      East Asians have more than just their cultural ethic of hard work going in their favor when it comes to SAT performance.

      The article points out that IQ is highly correlated with SAT score.
      East Asians have higher IQ than all other groups – except Ashkenazi Jews.

      • gda says

        “IQ is highly correlated with SAT score”

        Mensa considers that SAT scores from after January 31, 1994, “No longer correlate with an IQ test.”

        So maybe not so much anymore.

    • digi says

      Stunningly having your parents care about your educational attainment is a major factor in academic success. I’m asian, and my kids are mixed race. My wife is substantially more lenient than my parents were, but she’s still a dragon mom compared to the other moms in the area. Stunningly my kids do better at school than the children of disengaged parents.

      It’s not just genetics either. We recently took in my wife’s friend and her child for about a year after she got divorced. Her son was a second grader (like my daughter at the time), and quite behind in reading and writing due in part to a speech disorder he had earlier in life. He was probably a full grade and a half behind his peers in reading and writing and about a grade behind in math.

      We told them they could live with us on the condition that her son was going to be expected to follow the same study schedule that our kids were, with the same amount of involvement from her that our kids received from us. This wasn’t altruism. It’s just already hard enough to justify to my kids the amount of work we expect them to do when their friends all do substantially less. It would have been impossible if someone living with us wasn’t being held to similar standards.

      When we started making him read more, and work harder he initially complained that he couldn’t do it because he was too stupid. I told him I didn’t think that was the case, and that even if he was, I didn’t care. I still expected him to do it, but that I’d be here to help him if he needed it.

      Within 6 months he was done with pull out tutoring in school, and within the year he was fully caught up with the other people in his grade. He was proud of himself, and started winning awards for having a >good< attitude about school.

      Academic results start at home. Sure some extraordinary individuals are able to buck their circumstances, but it’s an amazing benefit to kids to have parents that care about their academic success.

  4. Jacqui says

    I do get your point about why tests like the SAT score may not necessarily be less fair for non wealthy kids. But I really don’t understand why in America, your college admission shouldn’t just be based on, oh, I don’t know, how you do in school maybe? Wouldn’t a teenager’s performance in school be a better marker of how well they learn, synthesize knowledge, use that knowledge to solve problems or answer thoughtful questions? Not to mention a reflection of consistency in performance, how well they work steadily throughout the year. Wouldn’t that be a better reflection on how they will do in college than say taking one standardized test? I went to uni in Australia and our university entrance grades were a reflection of our school work in our last year and a final exam for each subject we were enrolled in. My oldest son was educated in Canada and his university entrance was also determined by how well he did in his school work including assignments and exams. My younger son has dyslexia and would not do well in an exam setting. I am glad that his performance during the year on work he has produced will factor into university admission eligibility and I am very, very thankful we don’t live in America.

    • Charles says

      This topic is heavily researched by educational psychologists and the findings are pretty clear in the US context. High school grades are the strongest predictor of success, you’re right. But standardized tests absolutely provide clear incremental validity over grades. They are tightly correlated with a number of outcomes in college. They are not biased against identity groups or SES groups in the way test bias has been understood by ed psych researchers since T. Anne Cleary’s 1968 classic text on the issue.

      The problem is that grade inflation in both high schools and universities is making all selection tools less effective. Moving away from standardized tests doesn’t solve the “systematic leg up” problem. Letters of reference, personal essays, and resumes have little empirical support for their use in admissions and are far more susceptible to coaching than tests.

    • James Lee says


      The problem with using grades and not a national standardized test is that there is a very wide range of rigor between high schools. Someone can be number one in their class from a small high school, and that person can struggle and actually fail at an elite University unless they major in certain disciplines.

      But grades (how well you do in school) are definitely used in the admissions process.

    • Many schools in America are giving grades the student doesn’t deserve (inflated) or some aren’t even giving out grades anymore. Other stupid policies include banning D and F grades, I’ve read of schools that now ban teachers from giving anything less than a 59% on tests or assignments (even if the student refuses to do it) etc. Of course this is far more common in progressive enclaves then in more conservative locations. It is based upon the wifely discredited idea of ego-depletion which still has sla strong grip on education in America. Also, unlike many countries were it is difficult to get into teaching colleges, here in the USA teaching colleges tend to be where students who cannot hack it in other majors go. Many of our younger teachers have barely even rudimentary understanding of the subjects they are teaching but they understand “teaching theory” well. I have argued with science teachers about the difference between hypothesis and theory. Have had science teachers defend the precautionary principle, argue against vaccine safety or GMO safety, state organic is better for the environment and for humans, even after I present the plethora of evidence to the contrary. I’ve judged science fairs and am amazed at how many students are taught to use judgement words like good and bad to describe scientific concepts and the teacher didn’t understand why this isn’t something scientist do. I’ve had teachers mark my kids wrong because they did math problems using long division or other established math concepts despite getting the right answer and then turn around and Mark them correct despite getting the wrong answer using common core math nonsense (most parents I’ve talked to, including those of us with graduate science, math and engineering degrees feel common core results in far more wrong answers than older methods). I had one teacher criticize me for teaching my son multiplication tables. I’ve had biology teachers who didn’t know what exothermic and endothermic means and then argue with me that they are distinct categories rather than a spectrum (which is the correct concept that even freshman level biology students in university, well biology for science majors, learn).

      • Anonymous says

        Jeffrey C : ” I have argued with science teachers about the difference between hypothesis and theory.”

        How many times have I heard people with bad science education say things like “Einstein’s Theory is only a theory, not proved”.

        Obviously, conflating “theory” and “hypothesis”. Of course, they don’t know what a hypothesis is.

        And they don’t know that “Einstein’s Theory” ( special relativity ) has been proved experimentally many times.

        And they don’t know that a “theory” is a collection of proven knowledge about a topic ( Number Theory, for example).

    • UGDH says

      Unfortunately, the schools in the U.S. have no common curricula, and vary so widely in quality that high grades in a crappy school with not-so-bright students may mean very little when compared to average grades in a higher quality, more competitive school with a stronger student body.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “But I really don’t understand why in America, your college admission shouldn’t just be based on, oh, I don’t know, how you do in school maybe? ”

      High school grades are a factor but the quality of high schools varies considerabley. The SAT was developed so a school like Harvard could compare a kid in rural Kansas to a kid at an elite East coast prep school.

    • ga gamba says

      But I really don’t understand why in America, your college admission shouldn’t just be based on, oh, I don’t know, how you do in school maybe?

      Grade inflation, for starters. The difference in the rigour of education as well as the disparity in funding, education resources, and support are other issues. Admissions officers then have to speculate on the quality of many high schools. The National Center for Education Statistics count 23,176 public high schools (2009 to 2010 data) and 7,341 private high schools (2007 to 2008 data) in the US, and many tertiary institutions also have many international applicants to deal with as well. Some schools are far better known to the officers than others. Five percent of Harvard’s 2017 admitted and enrolled students came from just seven secondary schools; Boston Latin, Phillips Academy, Stuyvesant High School (public), Noble and Greenough School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Trinity School in New York City, and Lexington High School (public). Many of these schools, be they private or public, are also highly selective. A few years ago The Harvard Crimson reported on Harvard’s entering class; 6% of students came from the top 10 schools. The top 14 feeder schools have an average acceptance rate for those elite universities of about 33%; there are public high schools that don’t even send 33% its graduating class (its progression rate) to any university or college – I found one school district in Colorado, Plateau Valley 50, with a 13.10% progression rate. Look at the acceptance rate of the top 20 most selective universities – it’s 5 to 10 per cent. We know many, if not most, of those rejected were also excellent candidates.

      A standardised test score is a measure common to (almost) all applicants. The reason schools are ditching it is because it’s an objective measure across applicants and enrollees that may be also used to substantiate claims of discrimination against high scorers from particular groups, for example Asians.

      BTW, with many highly selective schools placing importance on extra curricular “giving back” by its applicants, who do you think this favours? I’d wager an applicant whose parents sit on charity boards has a big leg up over typical high school students.

      • Bill says

        The grade inflation even occurs in the college. My lowly doctorate is in comp sci but it involved knowledge of management (EIS and where IT and business merge, aligning strategy, etc). I had an employee who graduated with honors, MBA and Harvard…didn’t even know what the Balanced Scorecard was even though he got an A in a class on it where Kaplan spoke. I started quizzing him about MBA 101 stuff…clue less. No idea about org. change models. No idea about anything. He just “bought his A” and his whole MBA from “Haaavaaaard” experience was “networking with the elites.”

    • @Jacqui, College admission is a combination of grades and test scores, as well as other achievements. It may sound like it’s a cut throat stressful affair but that’s largely because the top 1% feel that way. Most mortals send their kids to regular state universities or community colleges with a transfer, and dont’ overworry about SATs. From state universities or smaller ‘regular’ colleges, you can still go quite far and do pretty much whatever you want, eg become a doctor, a researcher, anything really.

      But the SATs actually address the inequality you refer to in several ways:

      Schools are not equal by any means. Top public schools have a plethora of high level classes and opportunities, as well as peers to spur you on-getting A’s there is orders of magnitude different from an A in a low ranked school.So the SAT allows the colleges to gauge the actual ability of the student. A kid from a low ranked inner city school who gets a 1400 on their SAT is very impressive.
      Some private schools and publics are very vulnerable to large donors. I used to tutor a high ranking politician’s kid. The parents had their daughter move elite private schools every year because the schools tolerated their constant grade-changing demands only so much. I was there when she called the English teacher to demand that the A- be changed to an A.
      SATs have extended time for disabilities. My own child has several disabilities and got the extended time; and though his SAT was lower than you’d expect based on his grades, the colleges understood that and adjusted for it.

      Don’t listen to the hysteria you might hear about the US. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a huge country with many paths to success. The Mainstream media loves to paint us as on the verge of collapse and will only report on this narrative.

    • The statistics have borne out that how you do in school is, perhaps counterintuitively, much less predictive of how you do in college than these tests, barring confounding factors like the dyslexia you mention. They are excellent, even if they aren’t PC, and it’s a good thing we have them from a population standpoint. But I think you’re right in that life is much less stressful and more enjoyable elsewhere, so that’s the trade.

    • There’s another reason why the SAT is considered in tandem with high school grades: Boys. From kindergarten on, girls are more obedient and less itchy than boys and generally find school more rewarding. In addition, boys mature, physically and emotionally, somewhat later. If you are a high school boy with a GPA that has notched up from freshman through senior year and a very high SAT score you cannot get into an Ivy-level school on your presumed merits, but many other fine colleges will take a chance on you.

  5. GrumpyBear says

    I’ve got twin kids going through the admission process now, and although I agree that standardized testing is valuable and its use should be continued, or even expanded, this essay seems to miss a major point about admission to elite schools: test scores are only a small – almost trivial – portion of what drives the admission decision. Every college we visited (Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Harvey Mudd, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins) had the same message: your test score tells us whether or not you are capable of learning the material and nothing more, there is no low-end cutoff, there is no score that will even come close to guaranteeing admission. My kids have SATs around 1550 – well above the median for any school, and have already been rejected by Stanford, Harvey Mudd and the engineering department at the University of Washington. Top schools reject the majority of applications with test scores over 1500.

    Bottom line is that test scores barely matter. So what does?

    Essays and extracurricular activities, which can be bought – tiger moms here spend THOUSANDS on admission consultants to get professionally-written essays and optimized applications. Students can – and do – spend $15K to spend a few weeks at an summer program at an elite college, just to put it on their resume. Others go on pre-packaged overseas charity tours, for the same reason. Suggesting that “you can’t buy higher test scores” misses the point.

    I asked one of the admission director at Carnegie Mellon, after hearing her wonderful speech about diversity, and their holistic process, and how they really try to make sure all applicants are treated fairly, “What do you try to do to distinguish a genuine essay from a professionally written one?” Her answer: “Nothing. What can we do?”.

    Special skills (art, music, drama, athletics) – it’s no wonder that most of the scandal here is athletics based. Athletes get in with crappy grades and test scores, so pretending to be an athlete is an effective way to cheat.
    Demographics and social aspects – This is why the schools themselves have already limited the importance of test scores, and why some are making it optional. It’s not to help rich kids in; elite schools already have plenty of them. It’s so they can admit a class that meets their target racial, geographic, and gender (for STEM) statistics, and avoids a student body that 70% Asian.

    Certainly it’s dumb to mindlessly bleat that “it’s all about the money”, as Zoe Kagan seems to be doing. But it’s naive, and factually wrong, to argue that financial resources don’t play a part in who is admitted.

    Also: the title “Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing”. Is Kagan the only one? There’s really very little in this essay that supports the title. Maybe a better one would be “Why Woke College Administrators and Rich People with Stupid Kids Dislike Standardized Testing”.

    • equal_admissions_supporter says

      I’m kinda shocked your kids got rejected from UW’s Engineering department. Were they not in the top 10% of their High School class GPA-wise? Otherwise UW must definitely be using racial quotas or something. Harvey Mudd and Stanford are both super competitive so those rejections make sense.

      For what it’s worth I agree that SAT scores are merely table stakes if you are East Asian or Indian, once you hit the school’s threshold it doesn’t help one bit.

      I scored a 1600, was among the top 10 students in my class GPA-wise and was rejected from every Ivy I applied to + Stanford. I was your typical badge collector scheming to become the vice-president of as many clubs as possible and rigorously practicing an instrument that largely bored me solely to check off the boxes. (I was however over the moon winning the NCTE, which I now realize after googling isn’t even that impressive since its a 20% win rate and English teachers pretty much just nominate their favorite students.)

      A friend I grew up with scored a 1520 but had parents far more astute than mine; they hired an essay tutor for her and she did indeed get into Harvard.

      Granted I didn’t necessarily put my writing skills to good use: my Upenn essay was about Jewish exceptionalism and my Brown essay was about how chill I thought the vibe there was so some of it was definitely my fault.

      Thankfully though I wrote a short fiction story as my essay for another target school and I managed to catch the finance/consulting early career train just like all the other children of ex-comintern scientists I knew from my classes in high school.

      • GrumpyBear says

        UW Engineering is probably more restrictive than most Ivy League liberal arts majors – my son was accepted by the university but not into engineering. I don’t know where his high school GPA fell, but his math SAT score was 800 (highest possible). Maybe they didn’t like his essays or something else, maybe his major was particularly highly impacted; I don’t know. I don’t doubt that he would have been admitted if he were female or a preferred minority.

        We’re not too upset about it; he’ll end up at a fine college somewhere and his success in life will depend totally on what he puts into it, not which university he went too.

    • Doug F says

      If your starting premise is that all differences in outcomes are due to a white male patriarchy then of course you don’t support standardized tests. We should just use the SJW victimhood scale to determine admissions.

  6. Peter from Oz says

    The Australian System is much better. With a few exceptions, University entrance is based solely on how well you did in the last two years of high school in completing the Higher School Certificate (”HSC”). This certificate is completed by taking a certain number of elective courses over the last two years of High School. You are assessed in each subject, half on classwork and half on a final exam at of your final year in high school. Your aggregate score is then turned into a university entrance mark (ATAR), and places at Universities are awarded based on the ATAR mark. The Universities set a mark for entrance to each of their degree programs, based on how many students they can take and how prestigious the course is. Thus Medicine and Law (both of which are undergraduate degrees in most Australian universities) typically require a higher ATAR, as do vet science and dentistry.
    In some cases the universities will also interview applicants. But generally, if you get the required ATAR for the course for which you applied, you will get a place in that course.
    But in New South Wales what university you went to is socially far less important than what school you attended.
    It is far more important for parents to scrimp and save up to pay school fees at one of the elite private schools or to push for their children to get into one of the selective schools rather that worry about university fees, which are comparatively low and can be deferred and later paid through the tax system when the graduate earns over a certain yearly income.

    • JollyLittlePerson says


      The point is that the Higher School Certificate is based (half you said) on a national exam. So students from all over the country and from completely different schools are legitimately compared with each other. The only equivalent comparison in the U.S. is the SAT or the ACT.

      High schools have hugely different grading criteria (as other people have said). And high schools don’t even necessarily teach the same information. My kids went to school in several different states, and the history they teach is very different. Some states wouldn’t even accept history or social studies credits from another state and my kids had to retake classes that they had already done.

      I grew up in a country with national exams that were 100% of the university admittance grades (I think it’s changed now), so I can see the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.

    • Larry says

      And it’s still not as rigorous as it was up 40 years ago, when with a couple of exceptions (music and art of what ever sort) it was based fully off the HSC end of year exams.

      Then they started stuffing around with them and even lowered where they put the 50% marker on the curve.

    • E. Olson says

      Peter – is there no concern in Oz about university placement of Aborigines? I would guess they have much lower national test scores than other segments of society, so how is that dealt if it is at all?

  7. Nakatomi Plaza says

    The author of this piece is not qualified to write about this topic. There is a mountain of evidence that points out the systematic issues with standardized testing, both the benefits and problems. Standardized testing is often prejudiced based on class and ethnicity, and testing tends to crowd out other aspects of education such as arts and non-testable topics. Poorer schools tend to suffer because of excessive testing, particularly through funding mechanisms tied to testing. All of this is very well understood and documented. There is absolutely no reason to read this half-assed article when there are so many other people so much more qualified to write about this. There is the reason to politicize this issue with language about “elites” and Zoe Kazan (whoever the hell that is.

    It’s all just a game to rationalize wealth and the status quo around here, isn’t it? And if Zoe Kazan was a fat rich white guy we’d find a way to defend every last word he says.

    • This wasn’t about tests that are used as assessments of school or teacher progress. It was about college admissions tests. And there were several fat rich white guys indicted this week for trying to bribe their kids into college because the SAT was keeping them out.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ” Standardized testing is often prejudiced based on class and ethnicity, and testing tends to crowd out other aspects of education such as arts and non-testable topics.”
      The first assertion is doubtful, because social science studies a notoriously unreliable because they cannot be replicated.
      The second assertion is correct. But why are the arts and non-testable topics relevant in working out whether you will get into college.

    • ga gamba says

      Yes, get rid of something that’s objective with some flaws, and can be further refined to eliminate genuine discrimination and not the make-believe kind, in favour of wildly subjective “standards” that standardise nothing.

      Alas, Nakatomi upset yet again by another Quillette article. A glutton for disappointment and punishment s/he is.

    • Reader says

      “There is a mountain of evidence that points out the systematic issues with standardized testing”

      What specifically do you mean? People usually just assert this without having much to back it up in terms of specifics, and the piece makes claims otherwise with citations.

    • bandit08 says

      Standardized testing is often prejudiced based on class and ethnicity

      The go to rationalization for failure

    • Blue Lobster says

      I think the pertinent evidence in this case are comments from “Nakatomi Plaza” which clearly demonstrate that it is extremely fussy about something or other and will not be placated or satisfied until such time as it has had a juice box, an aspirin and a nap.

    • Peter Schaeffer says

      NP, “Standardized testing is often prejudiced based on class and ethnicity”

      Alas life for the reality challenged. Jews and Asians consistently get the best scores on these tests. Can anyone claim (with a straight face) that these tests are biased in favor of Jews and Asians? That Jews and Asians have somehow rigged these tests in their own favor? Too crazy for worlds.

      The class element is also bunk. Let me quote from “Standardized testing is often prejudiced based on class and ethnicity” in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

      “• Whites from families with incomes of less than $10,000 had a mean SAT score of 993. This is 129 points higher than the national mean for all blacks.

      • Whites from families with incomes below $10,000 had a mean SAT test score that was 61 points higher than blacks whose families had incomes of between $80,000 and $100,000.

      • Blacks from families with incomes of more than $100,000 had a mean SAT score that was 85 points below the mean score for whites from all income levels, 139 points below the mean score of whites from families at the same income level, and 10 points below the average score of white students from families whose income was less than $10,000.”

      “Poorer schools tend to suffer because of excessive testing, particularly through funding mechanisms tied to testing. All of this is very well understood and documented. ”

      This is also nonsense. Poorer schools have been doing poorly for decades (at least). Poor performance didn’t starting the testing mania. In real life (some) urban schools are lavishly funded and turn in dismal results. Check out funding for New York City and Washington D.C. schools. Huge amounts of money and really bad results.

  8. Jeremy Noble says

    This article is a bit of an opportunistic non-sequitur, taking aim at test-optionality (a progressive response to ‘inherent bias’), when that’s not really part of the bribery scandal.

  9. If the elites manage to get rid of standardized testing for admission to college, then all the elite children can be admitted with no hassle. Oh, they’ll throw some admissions to underprivileged and “victim” groups to assuage their conscience. But the really smart middle class kids will be shown the door and be tossed into the street.

    Our current elite class hates, despises, and wants destroyed the middle class with a near religious fervor.

    • jolly swag, man says

      the very existence of the middle class testifies to the banality and superfluousness of our current elite class.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Absolute tosh. The elites are mostly middle class.
      Middle class means comfortably off and cultured. It encompasses everyone from Bill gates to a primary school teacher in te backblocks. It does not refer to middle income earners. Class and income are not even correlated let alone the same thing.
      The elites are divided between the conservatives who like me are not interested in yobbo culture, but are very glad that it is there. The left-wing part of the eleite (the noisy minority) hate the culture of the workng class, which many lower middle class and middle class people still enjoy. They also hate the supposed lack of cosmopolitanism of the typical white westerner.
      The thing is that we in the elites typically have more in common with the elites from other countries than they do with their fellow citizens. left-wing members of the elite thus tend to think that all foreigners are like the charming upper middle class people they know from abroad and not like their own countrymen who are uncouth and uncultured.
      But more importantly, the left wing elitesd dislike the idea of competition. They are mostly very insecure in that they are in fact yobbos under the skin. So they worry that the barbarians are oing to rise and take their place. That is one of the reasons they loathe Trump so much. He is seen as the standard bearer of the vulgarians who will rob the left-wing elites of their prestige anf their loot.
      The answer is to join with the right wing elites who are happy to accept anyone in the club who plays by the rules.

  10. jolly swag, man says

    honey goes to money. But, hey, its just coincidence

  11. Ancaeus says

    The subtext of this article, and of many of the comments, is that universities should be meritocracies. And, that this or that policy or practice is inconsistent with meritocracy (or consistent). A far more interesting question is this: Is it morally acceptable for universities to be meritocracies?

    Why are talented people more deserving of admission to selective schools (whose degrees are valuable) than those with less talent? If talent is largely heritable, as suggested by the author and several posters, then certainly there is nothing praiseworthy about being talented. A strong moral argument can be made that those with less talent should be preferentially admitted so that these valuable degrees and superior educational experiences can make our society more fair (c.f. Rawls’s essay, “Justice as Fairness”).

    There are several practical arguments in favor of universities being meritocratic. But, is it just?

    • Eurocrat says

      To follow your logic to full – why don’t they just hand out diplomas proportionally to each (minority) group? Equality of outcomes is a concept so demotivating and unfair that only a hateful, non-talented or utterly stupid person could promote it. Hopefully you do not get a doctor to treat your illness who was “preferentially admitted”.

    • Prof says


      “Why are talented people more deserving of admission to selective schools (whose degrees are valuable) than those with less talent?”

      This isn’t as stupid of a question as it might seem. It goes back to the question of whether education is a private or a public good. If it’s a public good (in the sense that the whole community benefits from educated people), then of course talented people should be preferentially admitted to selective schools. If I’m going to finance (through taxes) the education of musicians in conservatories, then I’d rather my money got invested in students who have significant musical talent, because they are the ones most likely to learn to produce the kind of music that’s pleasant to listen to. This becomes even more obvious in the case of doctors, engineers, and the like, where failing to discriminate based on natural talent can be quite deadly.

      On the other hand, if you see education as essentially a private good, then indeed, why would you privilege the talented? That’s quite unfair. In that case, though, how about cutting all public support for universities, and letting people finance their private goods entirely out of their own pocket?

    • Andrew Mcguiness says

      “that those with less talent should be preferentially admitted” – There are practical problems with this approach. The reason a selective university’s degrees are more valuable is that they are (believed to be) conferred on students whose academic achievement was higher than at other universities. Part of the reason the students’ academic achievement is higher is that the university selects students who will achieve at a high academic standard. Of course, there are other reasons, such as that it is easier to teach at a high academic standard to a cohort the member of which will generally follow what you’re teaching, and share the learning among themselves. Professors with high academic achievement will be drawn to that environment. In addition, there will be some benefit from the money which follows from competition to get into the school, so that better facilities will be available; but to stop the university being selective would pretty quickly bring the standard of learning down.

  12. Dan says

    “You can tell an objective, meritocratic system is working when it pushes out people that the establishment would prefer to admit (people like Zoe Kazan), and it admits the people that the establishment would prefer to reject (Jews and Asians).”

    Pshh, there is no evidence that Jews are at a disadvantage in admissions in the modern era, and some evidence that they are advantaged (Yale and Harvard were 27% and 25% Jewish respectively in 2015 according to the Jerusalem Post). How did this get past the Quillette editors?


      In your opinion, Zoe Kazan was in jewish quota or in elite quota?

  13. Pingback: Open Thread, 03/14/2019 – Gene Expression

  14. Eurocrat says

    The funny thing with Zoe Kazan is that she does not get, or pretends not to, that her greatest “systemic leg up” is not the amount of money her super-upper middle class parents afforded for her tutoring, but her surname.

    In order to live life-less-privileged, I would suggest to persons in such a position:

    Change the surname.
    Change the appearance, cosmetic surgery is widely available, so that people of influence cannot recognise you.
    Stop using the talent you inherited and encouraged by your parents and surroundings – why be a good writer, when you can be an average pizza delivery person, for example?
    If even then you come on top and land a good job thanks to the IQ you inherited, upbringing you were given and education you received – maybe as a last resort – resort to some sort of a brain-impairing procedure, some high-precision lobotomy in order to lose some of your cognitive abilities?

    I mean, what else?

  15. LewLew says

    Tons of the points this author makes are simply not true. The SATs and ACTs still favor those with higher incomes no matter how many “cheap” resources the author says there are.

    The assertion that test prep books are inexpensive is ridiculous. I can tell you that if you are low income they are not inexpensive for you. Taking the test itself is not inexpensive. If you are low income you can get a reduced price on ONE test. If you want to take it again you pay FULL price. If your family income is $20-$50k for a family of 4-6 this is not a small cost. Nevermind thinking of a tutor. Teaching yourself to take the test is expensive. Plus assuming everyone has access to the internet for test prep is asinine.

    Then there is the issue of time. Low income kids have less time, they have jobs that there families depend on. Yes rich kids have time obligations and stress, but they aren’t obligatory in that your family won’t eat or lose housing if you have to skip that activity to study for the SATs.

    This is why the rich are advantaged in standard testing. This was just my experience trying to take tests when I couldn’t afford it. I had to save the money myself to do it because my family couldn’t pay for it.

    My scores increased a lot after I was able to buy the books and study for the test. And even if Khan academy had existed at the time my family wouldn’t have had internet at home because we didn’t even have a phone because my parents couldn’t pay the bill. So, no test prep is not easily accessible for low income students.

    • Prof says

      Everything you say is true, and nonetheless, a kid from a low-income family is far more likely to be able to afford test prep books than to afford (a) admissions consultants who can “polish” the college essay, (b) international “volunteering” trips to show how much the applicant “cares” about the less privileged, (c) a dozen extracurricular activities, which only exist in schools in privileged neighborhoods. So, you’re right, tests put poor kids at a disadvantage. However, they do so to a far lesser extent than any other “merit” criterion. If you’re poor but smart and highly determined, you can still work your way to a high SAT score. (Yes, you have to work harder than a rich kid would. But if you’re legitimately smarter and harder-working than the rich kid, you can still finish ahead.) Good luck financing that “volunteering” trip to Mexico, though. So, if you remove tests as an admissions criterion, then poor kids wind up at an even bigger disadvantage in college admissions than is currently the case.

    • Caligula says

      My test prep book cost ten dollars.Yes, it was that perennial favorite, “Barron’s SAT with Online Tests.” And it’s up to $16.99 now (on Amazon).

      Sorrybut, that’s cheap. If you can’t find < $20. for a prep book it’s because you’ve spent it on something more important to you.

      • LewLew says

        If you can’t afford your phone bill and you don’t have internet it’s not “cheap”. People without internet still exist in the US. No Amazon.

        Each ofy prep books was $30-50 in the early 2000s. If you live rural it’s doubly burdensome to get to a bookstore.

        I’d say food, rent, medication, urgent car repairs all might be more important to some.

        Plus you forget the cost to take the tests. Plus subject tests too.

  16. Bartek D. says

    This a nice and clear piece.

    But I would add one additional explanation: the IQ is heritable, but we should also remember about the mechanism know as regression toward the mean (technically, the effects of random noise mixing with deterministic factors). The offspring of very intelligent and talented parent will likely be intelligent and talented indeed, but (because of regression toward mean) nor as intelligent and as talented as their parent. This could definitely be somewhat frustrating/disappointing for a millionaire and power monger, and increase the propensity to manipulate the system.

  17. Andrew Elsey says

    I’m personally a proponent of standardized scores, and self-admittedly I have some bias and can’t claim that they’re not part of my ego vis-a-vis my success in several of them. I think that they key insight is that the people claiming that standardized test success are a function of economic resources are the same people who espouse that their Gender Studies degree requires intelligence equivalent to a Math degree; they’re just using different areas of their brains that don’t STEM students don’t haven’t developed! Here’s a study proving it! Look! You’ll also probably find a high intersection with people who believe that the world is going to end in 12 years, gender exists along a malleable gradient, and that white people are the cause of all misery across history.

    Anyway- the fact that rational people like OP have to actually write articles like this, explaining what should be obvious empirical reality, is proof, if nothing else, that we have an inflated volume of higher education in this country. I can fully guarantee you, without proof, that you’re going to find anti-SAT (etc.) views are going to be disproportionately and more vocally held by people studying for ill-conceived degrees at lower ranked universities with weaker economic prospects.

    That all being said, tangentially, I do hope that this scandal doesn’t end up doing more harm to our higher education systems than the potential good we’d like to hope for.

    • LewLew says

      I scored high on the SAT…only after I saved for a while to afford to take the test again and buy the prep books.

      I went to Stanford and now have a physics degree.

      Still anti-standardized testing.

  18. E. Olson says

    The other element that Zoe Kazan well illustrates is that marginal applicants who get admitted at elite school due to bribery, cheating, legacy, athletics, or affirmative action, but can’t actually handle the coursework in “tough” majors, provide a nice supply of bodies to keep the “soft” majors (such as theater) afloat. Perhaps it is also a coincidence that these soft humanities and social science fields are also the breeding grounds for social justice warriors who worry about how objective and rigorous testing is “victimizing” certain groups who tend to under perform on them. Show me a social justice protest, and I’ll show you a bunch of faculty and students from gender/black/Chicano/LGBT studies, languages, sociology, education, religion, and history, and virtually no faculty and students from STEM and finance.

  19. Andrew Crockett says

    Somebody hasn’t read The Myth of American Meritocracy, the definitive study of discrimination in elite college admissions.

  20. Desdichado says

    OF COURSE correlation implies causation. You can’t possibly have causation without correlation. Maybe that’s what people who did reasonably well on the Math section of the SAT believe, but all that proves is that you can train a midwit to answer certain questions like a clever trained circus animal, but not to actually think about them with any seriousness.

    Correlation does not NECESSARILY mean causation, but it certainly implies it, and you certainly look for causation where there is correlation first.

    Geez, even the lower end of the bell curve gets this with the folksy wisdom of “where there’s smoke, there could be a fire.”

    • Richard says

      Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation can imply a greater probability of causation. Those are different statements, though. Imply does not mean suggest, nor does it mean to increase the likelihood of something. If correlation implied causation, then causation could be logically inferred from correlation, no need for followup. That’s just not the case.

  21. Calvin says

    It’s hard for me to view the subject of standardized testing and the related issue of rich kid privilege objectively. I’m a second generation Asian-American, and I pretty much fit all the stereotypes. Hardworking small business owner parents, heavy emphasis on education and STEM subjects in particular. I had a Spartan upbringing, no frills. Physically I fit the mold too…short, compact, and a massive head (like literally, I’m 5’7″ with a 24″ head size). Trying to date pretty white girls was fun, I might as well had leprosy.

    I scored a 34 on the ACT and 1540 on the SAT. To put this in context, my parents were “ok” with ACT score but were very disappointed in the SAT, and tried to get me to take it again. Why couldn’t I score above 1550, like many others in the community? Also, my older sister scored higher on the SAT, and my younger brother eventually bested us all (little stinker got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT).

    I was accepted into most of the schools that I applied to, including some very elite ones. I ultimately chose to attend the large state school in my home state, and ended up getting degrees in accounting and finance. I eventually got an MBA as well. I now make a very good living, as does my wife, and we have a young and thriving family.

    My takeaways are as follows. Growing up, I deeply resented my parents for forcing such high academic standards on me and my siblings. Nothing seemed good enough academically, and they would pit my performance against others and criticize me for falling short.

    But now? Although my parents’ methods may have been crude, I now realize that from their perspective, to NOT work so hard was stupid and lazy. Here they were in a country that offered the ticket to the good life, IF ONLY one knuckled down and performed well academically. And they were right!

    Further, college level classes were an absolute breeze for me, and shockingly so. All of those years of academic rigor made me think that this was normal, when in fact the average kid my age was frittering away their time and barely absorbing anything in class. I often volunteered as a tutor for fellow students, and could not believe the level of incompetence. How did these people get into college? And, will this be my competition in the working world? (good!)

    The standardized testing not only provided an objective measure for kids like me to aim for to raise our status, it also seemed to encourage an environment of intellectual development and achievement, which has set me up for great success in life.

    I hope for the sake of future generations of hardworking immigrants that standardized testing is still used in college admissions

  22. Shane says

    I went to a public university in a small European country about 20 years ago.

    There were no elite universities, you just went to the nearest one. Like most other students, I lived at home and got the bus (80 minutes each way).

    It was socially a pretty dull experience. Educationally, it got me pretty close to the frontier of what an undergraduate could learn at the time, anywhere in the world.

    This cost my parents $1,500 a year (inflation adjusted) and maybe the government another $8,5000.

    I left debt free.

  23. Ingot9455 says

    Just as a comment; as of 1996 the SAT is no longer correlated with the IQ score.
    The SAT test has been dumbed down and altered to the point where it no longer connects.

    If you took the SAT before 1996, you can translate your score to IQ via a lookup page online, but afterwards, no more.

  24. Michael Huang says

    conveniently fails to mention widespread anti-Asian bias

  25. NotEliteKid says

    Just because standardized testing doesn’t correlate perfectly with how smart you are, doesn’t mean it’s not useful. It (1) gets rid of really dumb/lazy students with upper middle class/wealthy parents as a minimal threshold and (2) allows some really good low socioeconomic status kids to shine. That high socioeconomic status is correlated with high SAT does not change this fact. Getting rid of standardized testing will only make these disparities worse. It doesn’t completely get rid of discrimination (what does?), but it helps exclude/include the outliers.

    I’m a physician and all I see around me are wealthy MD parents complaining about how standardized testing is terrible and advocating to change the system. The real reason they are doing it is because their privileged kids (who are entitled and lazy +/- not that smart) are not getting into good schools or professional programs compared to smart, good, less privileged kids. I was a hard-working immigrant kid and I can tell you that I benefited from standardized testing to get into medical school because there’s no way I could compete with the resumes of wealthy kids who’s parents had paid literally tens of thousands of dollars so that they could go on “volunteer medical trips to Africa to save kids of HIV”.

  26. Most elite universities use various dodges to avoid admitting on merit: special admission for jocks, legacies, children of parents who donate, minorities, etc. These universities discriminate against asians and whites. Also, it is not possible to identify the best applicants among a group of well qualified applicants. It’s not surprising that some parents feel justified in using any edge they can get to help their children. Friedman’s notion that Ivy schools discriminate against Jews is weird, given the composition of the faculty and staff at these schools, and there is evidence that the opposite is true.

  27. Mahon says

    “Legacy” admissions and preferences are not a bad thing – up to a point. In a pluralist society there should be private institutions with independent sources of support, which will generally be dependent on their histories and traditions which legacy admissions tend to maintain (including large alumni/ae contributions, of course.)

    As is often the case, a little bit is a good thing but too much is a bad thing. The SAT’s etc. serve to maintain a balance, and also screen in exceptional candidates who are not otherwise privileged.

  28. bandit08 says

    So called ‘elites’ don’t like using test scores because of entitlement – the poor don’t like them because they don’t reward mediocrity

  29. Chip says

    Its weird how articles like this rail against some group of “elites” as if they are somehow undeserving of their power and status.

    Yet the author goes on to assert that heritable IQ is correlated with higher income and success.

    Wouldn’t that mean that there is in fact a group of elites who really are smarter and better than the rest of us and are fully deserving of their power and status?

  30. Hmmm says

    Important points by GrumpyBear and Prof about the games played with college essays and extracurricular activities. You’d learn a lot more about an applicant if they had to write their admissions essays the way they take the SAT: In a room, with a surprise prompt, proctors, and finite (but ample) time. (Of course, there would inevitably be unfair aspects to that as well, and ways to prepare and get a leg up on the competition.)

    Shane — the contrast between US universities and your European experience brings up an essential but generally neglected aspect of higher ed in the US. In some ways, colleges are 4-year summer camps for high school graduates. Head 2500 miles away, live on a campus populated by thousands of people the same age as you, experience “residential education,” play ultimate frisbee, go to basketball games, try to get laid, drink till you drop. And yes, take some classes, learn a lot or a little depending on your tastes. Signal virtue at demonstration against [fill in blank]. Make friends. Get diploma.

    I’d like to see some questioning of this model.

  31. Sylv says

    What criteria could be used to determine admission that couldn’t be gamed by wealthy parents? Essays? Extracurricular activities, athletics, community work? Whatever the standards are, parents like Kazan’s will spend what they have to in order to meet those standards, and they will leverage their resource advantages to do so. So their kids will still get in at higher rates than poor kids of similar ability.

    The unspoken scandal of this story is on the back end — what opportunities are only available to people who graduate from “good” schools? This is where the role of colleges in maintaining existing class divisions becomes most egregious — hiring standards that use school prestige as a shorthand for competence close the loop of class reproduction. A college degree functions like a pedigree in some circles, only tangentially related to ability.

  32. Anonymous says

    Damn, this is one fine piece of analysis.

    This is also a very original argument – I have not seen this point made anywhere else – namely, that the elites are disingenuously attacking standardized tests, pretending to want to “empower minorities” – but rather actually simply looking to remove a barrier that is hindering their own average kids.

    And reminding us that there is actually some effectiveness to the putative meritocracy. The proof being that the elites were forced to shell out big bucks to try to cheat the system.

  33. David Karger says

    Sorry, I’m in the elite and I love standardized testing. It lets me and people like me move to the front because we can work the system.

  34. Rick says

    So the elites and their kids who fear testing will be banished to soft degree programs rather than learning how to compete. That leaves room for the others who master knowledge content and test taking skills to enter the professional schools. Let’s hope the health professions keep testing their candidates for program entry and board certifications.

  35. cristo says

    ” . . . from which i graduated with honors etc . . .” Ah, it should be, from which I was graduated, etc.

  36. david of Kirkland says

    You don’t need to even go to school, or pay a tutor, to score well on the SAT. You just have to learn before you take it. All of knowledge is out there, and those who need to be pushed and prodded and pay extra to prepare for the SAT (why not study for the 11 years before you take the SAT instead?). Sadly, there’s no “jobs test” (too many jobs and tests would have to be developed which would quickly be outdated as jobs are not as stable as schooling materials are), so a degree is required for many areas, but where a professional test exists (such as law or medical school), the need for degrees is also just virtue signaling rather than proof of knowledge.

  37. david of Kirkland says

    Nope, that usage is correct and well supported by dictionary definition as a verb: “successfully complete an academic degree, course of training, or high school.”

  38. This is the most shocking scandel since R Kelly and M Jackson were outed as perverts. Totally caught me off guard.

  39. Wherever there is a system, administered by man, with incentives to cheat, and a reasonable expectation of getting away with cheating – there will be corruption.

    Perfectly illustrating why consolidated power always, without fail, leads to corruption.

    Especially true in an instance where you aren’t dealing with repeat transactions, such as admission to college.

  40. asdf says

    Most people will only improve about 30 points or less per section if they study a lot. Sometimes you can improve more on the verbal section if English is your second language.

    Test prep companies mostly sell snake oil and they know it. Even those 30 points could come from a single practice book and sitting down for a couple of practice tests.

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  42. Tell the Truth says

    Great general theme to the article. But then the author says the establishment doesn’t want to let in ‘Jews and Asians.’ True of Asians. But I’m guessing Mr Friedman knows that Jews are the most over represented group at Yale at about 27% despite being approximately 6% of high performing high school students based on detailed analysis of national merit scholars and other metrics done people like Rob Unz. And that cal tech, possibly the only elite school with a pure meritocracy has a student body that is 6% Jewish. Anyone interested should read Ron Unz’ amazingly thorough articles on this. On the other hand non Jewish whites are only about 20% of Yale and are vastly underrepresented based on performance (like Asians). This isn’t debatable. It’s a fact! Mr. Friedman should issue a correction

  43. Marko says

    Progressives view test-based admissions as inequitable because some marginalized groups are significantly underrepresented among the pool of top-scoring college applicants.

    What? Theyre not inequitable because the outcomes are different. Theyre inequitable because a student who can afford a private tutor for the SAT has an advantage over one who cant. Furthermore the economic security of both individuals is tied heavily to the score, which gets them into the best school, which grants them access to social circles of affluent families, which gets them coveted careers, etc. Its just the dominoes moving on, beginning from birth. Ignoring these advantages is what transforms the notion of ‘meritocracy’ in the united states into a cruel joke.

  44. Chad Chen says

    In a multiracial democracy like the United States, a test-score meritocracy in post-secondary education will not work.

    It virtually guarantees the progressive monopolization of scientific and professional knowledge, domination of highly paid employment and control of the culture by tiny ethnic groups (Jews and Asians) who account for less than 10% of the population.

    That’s called autocracy or oligarchy, not democracy. It means the creation of inequality, poverty and underdevelopment.

    The domination of elite universities by tiny ethnic groups blocks the economic, political and cultural developnent of non-elite groups, and can prevent the latter from full participation in society and from developing or maintaining the capacity to defend themselves from attacks by hostile forces.

    Meriticracy legitimizes the taxes levied on the so-called cognitively inferior majority to pay for the education of the so-called cognitive elite. If the elite are so smart, they should be paying the full cost of their education. Taxing blacks, for example, to subsidize the education of recently arrived Asian households, as happens in Michigan, Texas and North Carolina, is an abomination.

    I could go on, but you get the point.


  45. Gringo says

    A number of commenters have stated that those who have access to SAT coaching have an unfair advantage in being admitted to elite colleges. If SAT coaching constitutes an unfair advantage, it is an unfair advantage, not for admission, but for being CONSIDERED for admission. Elite colleges do not use SAT scores as a deciding factor for admission, but as a filter. Take Princeton as an example. Princeton: Admission Statistics: Statistics for Applicants to the Class of 2022

    Percentage of Applicants Accepted by SAT Range:
    SAT Scores Percent Accepted

    1500-1600 8.0
    1380-1490 4.5
    1260-1370 3.0
    1100-1250 1.1
    900-1090 0.2
    Below 900 0.0

    If you can get your SAT scores coached up to 1500+, you still have only an 8% chance of getting admitted to Princeton. It’s still a crapshoot. All SAT coaching does is make it a little bit less of a crapshoot.

    • This is a common misconception. If we expanded the chart even more, it’d show incremental increases between 1500-1510, 1510-1520, etc. It’s important to try to do as well as you can but also to just relax after you’ve done your best because it doesn’t matter much where you go to college anyway

      • Gringo says

        It’s important to try to do as well as you can but also to just relax after you’ve done your best because it doesn’t matter much where you go to college anyway.

        Test scores used to be more important for admission to elite universities. From days bygone I know of two Merit Finalists, both indifferent students, who got admitted to Columbia and Wesleyan on the basis of their Merit/SAT scores. It wasn’t a case of standardized testing discovering talent that had otherwise been missed. Both were previously known to be very bright but also indifferent – or would that be lazy- scholars.

  46. TheOldman says

    The only SAT “prep” I did way back in the ’70s was to take the test twice. IOW my first time was “prep” for the second time which was a few months later. IIRC I went up about 120 pts.

  47. SKdriver says

    All irrelevant. I had no tutoring for SAT’s in 1964, did well in PSAT’s, did well in SAT’s. Subsequently, I did well in MCAT’s (med school admission exams) and in 1969 was given early acceptance as one of 12 women in a class of 120. Not everyone does well in “standardized testing”, but those who do need no “enhancement”. BTW, my family wasn’t wealthy, although we always had a book in hand.

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  51. Josh Curtis says

    “There’s not a clear causal relationship between income and test scores.”

    LOL. (Seriously.) LOL. (Like, literally.)

    Um, yeah, that’s bullshit. Go look at the socioeconomic demographics of the student body at the average Ivy League school and then compare it with the demographics at your local public college.

    • Marie K. says

      You are mistaking test score for acceptance to Ivy League schools. That was much of the point of this essay. Ivy League schools reserve about 60% of their seats for legacy acceptances. ie the very wealthy. Good test scores are the only leverage most middle class students have to get in

  52. tebrmc says

    Maybe someone mentioned this already, but that IQ/SAT study is out of date. Modern SAT tests are much less g-loaded than tests were in the ’70s. The very fact that you CAN get a much better score by doing a few months of prep is evidence of that, actually.

    Kazan is right that there is something seriously wrong with the standardized testing system. It creates tremendous waste by instituting a Red Queen’s race. Instead of testing kids on their ability to spend months learning testing hacks that will never benefit anyone afterward, what if we measured conscientiousness by having kids build robots or write poetry or something?

    (The cynical answer is that we actually want to measure conformity to arbitrary rules, not conscientiousness per se.)

  53. IssacNewton says

    It would be more interesting to see how SAT/IQ (or similar scores) correlate with lifetime income, health, having children, productivity growth, etc. I find it interesting that each US generally cohort since WWII is the more educated/credentialled in the history of the republic. Yet, each decade US productivity growth and economic growth declines.

    It appears that well-credentialled people have increasingly problems in cooperating to build a more effective society and the more credentialled the become the less effective they are. There is a correlation between income and IQ/SAT (I think around .3), but not productivity growth. Or perhaps test taking skills do not make one successful at economic growth.

  54. Charlie says

    The nature of elites has changed. In the Middle Ages an aristocrat could only prove himself a member of an elite by fighting. At Crecy when a knight told Edward the III that his son, the 17 year old Black Prince was surrounded he ” Let him earn his spurs “.

    A Viking Father gave his son a sword and told him to earn his living. Through allowing legacy rights, poor state education and expensive university tuition , affluent families are protecting their children from competition. By allowing in minorities to read subjects which do not lead to well paid careers and by limiting Asians at universities protects the children of the wealthy.

    What has happened is that modern education lacks rigour so people spend more time at school and university. It is like equating time spent in the gym equals fitness. One can undertake 40 minutes of punishing circuit training or spend a leisurely 60 minutes barley breaking sweat.

    Most university education has become, especially in the humanities
    1. A money making scam for mediocre middle class academics and administrators, especially in humanities and some sciences
    2. By Ivy league education becoming so expensive , it is a from of financial selection used as a barrier by wealthy parents to enable their children to enter well paid jobs. It has become a glorified finishing school, not centres of academic excellence.

    The old British system and the modern day German/Swiss systems allow people to received the education/training to enter well paid jobs.

    The old British system enabled people to
    1, Go to med school at 18 years and luckily one can still go to law school at this age.
    2. Obtain a degree at 20 years,a doctorate at 22years and teach at university at 23 years.

    Two examples below

    A Toynbee obtained a First in Greats at 22 years of age and was lecturing at 23 years of age.

    The British system was quicker and cheaper because academic training was more rigorous and started at younger age. Toynbee won a scholarship to Winchester which is an incredibly tough exam sat by 12- 13 year olds.

    Shakespeare, Dickens , Austen, Brontes, GK Eliot , Orwell, Kipling and Churchill all left education by the age of 18 years.

    Also there was the tradition of leaving school at 16 years of age and studying for professional exams in engineering, accountancy, law , chemistry and surveying at night school. The various Chartered Engineering Institutes – civils, mech, electricity, etc, offered Part 1 and Part 2, exams, the latter being degree standard . Engineers trained included Mitchell- Spitfire, Camm – Hurricane, B Wallis- Wellington, Chadwick-Lancaster, De Havilland – Mosquito. In fact most of the best British aeronautical engineers.

  55. “Zoe’s arguments don’t hold up…”

    LOL what? Her tweets are uncontroversial statements regarding her own experience: they’re not arguments.

  56. “Zoe Kazan is a talented writer, and in three short tweets here, she manages to….”


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  58. it should be simple. You meet the grade, you get in , you don’t , you go to a different University or you don’t get in at all.

  59. Jett Rucker says

    Most welfare/social-justice schemes resemble the anti-testing movement in that they benefit mostly those already on top. People who support these who aren’t among the elite are useful idiots.

  60. John Anderson says

    Can admissions tests be made the way that any decent professor should be marking students papers: blind (no names or identifying information attached to SAT scores)?

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  62. Back in my working years I interviewed scores of people for jobs in the Headquarters of a big international corporation.

    One of my favorite questions was “Do you remember your SAT scores?”

    People who did well on SATs are quick to relate their scores.

    Others, not so much.

    That company did not use IQ tests so this was a “work around.”

  63. Darby says

    It would be better if universities just quit the hypocrisy. Admit that admissions are partly on merit. Money matter too. A hundred million donation to make a new science building would help all the students. Just admit as such. I have a feeling the universities left wing beliefs clash with their real world realities. So they go with hypocrisy instead. Legacy admissions on the other hand I have not understood. Unless those legacy parents are rich and donate to the school, why should this matter? If it is their heredity that implies they are as smart as the parents then the legacy should not matter and the students would gain admission on their own merits. Otherwise they just perpetuate an elite that once again clashes with their supposed egalitarianism.

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