Never mind computer scoring and the SAT; what about the handwriting?!

St. Martin’s Press guy and all-around good computers and writing sort Nick Carbone sent me a piece from the subscription only version of The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Test Scores Do Not Predict Happiness” by Theodore A. O’Neill. I actually get the print version of the CHE (temporarily), so I should look this one up.

A lot of what O’Neill is talking about in this essay is the general complaints about the SAT and how it presents some huge problems for admissions offices (O’Neill is the dean of admissions at the University of Chicago). At the end of his essay, he writes:

Admissions officers could, of course, ask students to write for the
college application rather than for the SAT, could pose questions
interesting enough to capture the attention of smart kids and then
read the responses with care and sensitivity — but that takes time
and skill. We could sit and talk to students about their thoughts,
reading, lives, dreams, and whatever else they feel is important to an
understanding of who they are, but that takes time and skill.
Schoolteachers could teach and evaluate without relying on Advanced
Placement examinations and SAT-II’s to direct their teaching and
validate their successes, but that would take time and skill.

Even if the skill is available — and a lot of skillful and devoted
people work as teachers and admissions counselors — the time so
frequently is not.

Incidentally, if a place like the University of Chicago doesn’t have the resources to do what most people would consider to be “the right thing,” what chance does a place like EMU have?

Anyway, as troubling as all that might be, the thing that really got me in this piece is the reminder that the written part of the test will be written out by hand, and, as a result, penmanship is going to count, even if it is on the basic level of legibility or on some more hard to measure/impressionistic/unconscious level .

Let me tell ya, I am so lucky I don’t have to take this test.

Here is a “real and undoctored” version of my handwriting:

I will admit that I didn’t try to be especially neat when I wrote this, but I didn’t try to be messy either, and I do think this is a more or less “real” writing sample. When I got done reading the article that Nick sent me, I sat down with a pen and tried to write out a response. My first problem was actually using a pen– I much prefer to do my “writing” on a computer keyboard. But beyond that, here’s what I noticed:

  • I used a pen on white unlined paper. I assume students taking the test will have to use the classic #2 pencils, which (for me, at least) would make it even more illegible.
  • Writing this much took me about 15-20 minutes. I could have typed four times as much in the same amount of time.
  • I couldn’t revise anything really, which really frustrated me.
  • I think my handwriting (and again, this is pretty typical) “looks” dumb, which, in turn, makes me look dumb. Which is why I type.
  • Oh yeah, these are all reactions based on writing something in a not very difficult situation– that is, I wasn’t taking a test in a room with a bunch of other people.

I guess what I’m saying is if I were in the same situation as perspective college students having to take this test, I’m not sure I could do it.

I wonder how many of the test developers would be willing to do it?

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