More than an SAT Score

On April 16th the College Board released sample questions from the 2016 ‘New’ SAT which were received with much fanfare by the SAT test-training world.

The questions and new essay format, though curriculum based and seemingly ‘more relevant’, still measure convergent thinking: the ability to assess multiple strands of information to arrive at one best answer. Convergent thinking alone, however, does not measure a student’s creativity or intellectual curiosity. To gain a fuller picture of a student’s creative capacity, measuring divergent thinking, the ability to develop multiple approaches to a problem, needs to be included.

One measure of divergent thinking is the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The Torrance test was developed by Paul Torrance in the 1950s and includes questions that encourage a multiple of responses, such as how many uses are there for maple syrup or what type of world would there be without electricity?

Divergent thinking skills measured by the Torrance test are a much better indicator of creative achievement in art, music, writing, science, government and business than IQ tests are. Back in the 1950s Torrance performed his own study over a period of seven years across every student attending two Minnesota elementary schools. The students took the TTCT every year along with a traditional IQ test. In 1999, when these scores were reviewed, the divergent thinking scores were three times more effective at measuring creative achievement as compared to IQ test metrics.

Creativity, however, is just one variable in college success and beyond. In 1983 Torrance also pulled together a list of other characteristics that were ‘consistently better predictors of creative achievement, far surpassing virtually all aspects of scholastic achievement, even school grades and IQ test scores.’  The key characteristic according to Torrance is “falling in love with something—your dream, your image of the future.”

Once a person has become passionate about achieving something, other characteristics emerge including ‘love of work’ (once you’ve fallen in love with something, pursuing it is no longer work); ‘persistence’ as now you’re pursuing something that spiritually demands achievement; ‘purpose in life’; diversity of experience; high energy; creative self-concept (self-identity); risk taking; openness to change; and becoming accustomed to non-conformity, or ‘being a majority of one.’ Composites of these characteristic are found to regularly outweigh IQ Tests or Divergent Thinking in lifelong creative achievement.

Consequently, a means of measuring long-term creative achievement is needed. Scott Barry Kaufman in his Scientific American 12 March 2014 article, ‘Imagining a New College Entrance Examination,’ analyzed the limits of convergent, divergent thinking and concluded both, by their very natures, limit the multiple paths ‘to intellectual achievement’. His recommendation is that students, from the first day of high school, develop a portfolio of achievement. In it they can place anything that shows imagination, originality, intellectual curiosity, how they led a class or interpreted a theory…this, in effect, would recreate their achievements and share with the admissions office what they deem important. In short, make a case as to why they are college ready.

This might be perceived as overwhelming to some admissions offices, but the best colleges already do this to some degree. Harvard’s supplement to the Common Application contains an essay prompt asking to tell it something that hasn’t already been mentioned somewhere else in your application—it also asks for an abstract of any independent research conducted. Bard College offers an innovative online essay exam. RISD requires a candidate submit a drawing of a bicycle, and each UC Application contains two personal statements totaling 1000 words (UCLA alone read over 85,000 such applications this last admissions cycle.) 

The point is most schools, to truly evaluate a candidate, cannot rely on standardized tests—simple performance markers from a specific place and time. Whether the New SAT takes hold and gains mandates from states is almost immaterial. It’s merely another form of measuring convergent thinking. Your true measure is the actions you take and the activities you perform throughout your high school career and your life.