The SAT shouldn’t stifle divergent thinkers

The SAT should be adjusted to acknowledge unconventional forms of intellect.

The Scholastic Assessment Test, widely known as the SAT, has been a controversial measure of intelligence since it was used for the first time in 1926. SAT supporters argue that the test is a good calculation of future success in college. Even though many colleges, including Temple, allow SAT score submissions to be optional, the test is still a prevalent measure of academic performance.

But it doesn’t measure the skills that are becoming increasingly necessary for college and modern society: critical thinking and problem-solving, also referred to as divergent thinking.

For applicants, Temple offers the Temple Option, an opportunity for people who do not wish to submit their SAT scores. The students who choose this path answer a few open-ended questions instead of submitting the scores.

But many colleges still require applicants to submit SAT scores. I respect Temple’s approach, but there should be an effort to alter the SAT itself to be more responsive to other types of intelligence, instead of leaving it up to colleges to decide how important scores are.

Saul Axelrod, a retired education professor who co-wrote “Psychology of classroom learning: An Encyclopedia,” said people working in education tend to look to tests as a way to predict how students will do in life.

“They’ve turned out to be fairly good predictors of school and life success,” Axelrod added.

Of course, I understand why it’s necessary to estimate levels of intelligence. I simply don’t think this particular test is the most accurate way of doing so.

Frank Farley, an educational psychology professor and former president of the American Psychological Association, said the SAT fails to measure divergent thought, which is a method of creative, non-linear thinking to find possible solutions. Instead of testing based on prior knowledge, tests should measure a student’s ability to think divergently.

“The survival skill of this century is going to be dealing with change, with uncertainty, with risk,” Farley said. “And those are the kind of qualities that we need to emphasize much more.”

“You don’t measure those things with a multiple choice test,” Farley added.

Farley said the SAT is no longer a viable indicator of the important aspects of intelligence that are relevant today. He explained that the test measures a student’s knowledge, rather than their ability to think creatively.

“And that’s a serious flaw,” he said.

Farley said testing students on their divergent thinking is more important than testing students on convergent thinking, which is the practical process of thinking that helps with standardized tests.

“The SAT is yesterday’s test,” Farley said. “We have to reconsider how we define higher education in the face of all these dramatic changes that are taking place.”

According to Scientific American, divergent and convergent thinking both rely on things like concentration and mental flexibility. If that’s true, I don’t see why we can’t find a way to incorporate both skill sets into one test.

While divergent thinking seems like a more unconventional form of intelligence, it’s not impossible to measure on paper. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a test to find gifted students, is the most widely known example of testing divergent thinking. This test requires students to generate answers and possibilities on their own, rather than responding to multiple choice questions. It includes verbal and figural tests.

I don’t see why these kinds of tests aren’t used as college admissions tools, especially because they are proven to be better quantifiers of the skills necessary to operate in today’s world.

Divergent thinking is a valuable form of intelligence, and the SAT disregards it completely. I commend Temple for instituting one alternative to the problematic standardized test, but we should take it one step further. Nationwide, we must utilize the tests that measure creative thinking.

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