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CLT versus SAT: Foundational Knowledge versus Meaningless Skill

Most standardized tests fail to measure anything except the student’s ability to take that test, and take it well. Neither do they reflect a proper course of learning, leading teachers in some schools to build their courses around a material that lacks an internal structure or intrinsic values.

This status-quo has changed with the creation of the Classic Learning Test. Having taken both the CLT and the SAT, I can affirm with confidence that the former by far outstrips the latter in every aspect. In reading and literature, CLT is more analysis-focused, and the selections are superior; whereas in mathematics, the problems are challenging, but solvable within a reasonable amount of time, if one has mastered the method. The essay prompt that I received made me contemplate and think deeply about my topic. Having had the benefit of a classical education since I was in third grade, the entire CLT seemed convenient, accessible, and in the same time enriching.

English literature, the first section of any standardized test, already proves itself more worthwhile in the CLT than in the SAT. In the SAT, questions are strictly comprehension-based, and the test relies heavily on tricky wording and unlikely extrapolations, meant to trip up unwary students. Meanwhile, in the CLT, students are faced with profound analysis questions, causing them to think and reason for themselves to abstract an answer. The comparisons (absent in the SAT) help determine if the reader is able to simultaneously narrow down on certain aspects of the material, and observe differences and similarities thereof. In addition, all selections are engaging and inspiring. On one occasion, I actually found myself holding back laughter while reading a selection from Jane Eyre. Another time (this time, on a practice test), I was so astounded by the eloquence of one of the articles that I felt compelled to immediately share it with my mother.

The grammar / language portion in excellent because a student is actually prompted to choose answers that not only reflect an utilitarian style of writing, but a beautiful one as well. When I took the SAT, I noticed that the only “fault” some answers were guilty of was that they were too “Victorian”. The selections in this part of the CLT are no less interesting than those in the first section. In find this fact especially important. If a person is to spend an entire Saturday taking a test, one may as well not be bored out of one’s wits (as it can easily happen if reading a disjointed portion of a lesson about internal waves, a story lacking any nerve or moral conflict, or an article written by some biased liberal author, prompting ideas that come in total conflict with any goodness, truth, or beauty).

Mathematics is easily not my strongest suit, yet classical education has taught me to see the inexhaustible innate value and the beauty of it. The problems CLT proposes require back-to-front knowledge of concepts and theories, or else problems will either be impossible or extremely difficult to solve. Unlike the SAT, these questions do not require “inside knowledge” of tricks or knacks, meant to lead to the correct answer, without actually solving the math problem. Instead, careful reasoning using correct mathematical principles will soon lead to the right answer. And calculators are completely disallowed – just like they are in my class! Expecting students to reason correctly, when they cannot handle numbers with ease, is insanity.

Finally, everything about the official CLT was neat, orderly, and convenient. Need I mention scratch paper, which allowed me to stay organized and focused, the way I have been taught by my teachers that is likely to produce quality work! Being online (no time wasted painting perfect bubbles), the testing time is much shorter, and I got my results back the very same day. This cannot compare with my nervousness over my scores, which, 2 weeks later, I have yet to receive; or with my anxiety over the quality of bubbling in my SAT answers, or over being forced to squeeze in work on the same booklet where my problems were (after having worked for years only in notebooks, this idea in itself terrified me).

Any college which weighs in their admission process students’ SAT scores, while not considering the CLT, is not worth my consideration. Universities are supposed to be places of thought and learning; to reject a test that encourages and fosters both is foolishness.

Iulia Goean

Sophomore at Paideia Classical Academy, Coconut Creek, FL

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