SAT – Stupid Aptitude Test

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It’s no secret that I’m no fan of employment testing (see my post, Testing, Testing, 1,2,3), so when I heard a news item on NPR’s on my drive home about how employers are asking for SAT scores as part of the hiring process, I nearly slammed into a tree. What idiot believes that how you did on a college entrance exam four or more years ago has anything to do with how good an employee you will be?

I’m guessing they are the same people who did well on their SATs.

Like many high school students today, I took the SAT. I strolled into a classroom at a neighboring high school early one Saturday morning (way to early, if you ask me. If you are going to test high school students, it should be done after they usually wake up, maybe two or three in the afternoon), and with my sharpened number 2 pencils, spent three hours answering a series of mind-numbing questions. In those dark ages, before modern-day inventions like the smart phone and the light bulb, I don’t recall anyone studying for months beforehand or paying thousands of dollars to take a prep course, or even losing any sleep over the SAT. It was just another test in a series of tests just like it we had been taking since the first grade.

I did pretty well, too, if I recall. But if you want to know my score as a part of your employment application, you’re out of luck. I don’t remember it. And I wouldn’t want to work for you, anyway.

Companies such a CVent, Goldman Sachs and Boston Consulting Group all request SATs, and not just for entry-level applicants. Some ask it of middle-aged, seasoned candidates. Some organizations even have set minimum scores, but even for those who use it as one factor in the decision-making process, the question is, why use it at all?

The SAT is not designed to determine whether or not you will perform well in the workplace. At first, it wasn’t even used as a part of your college entrance application. Instead, it was used as coaching tool once you started.
It is designed to determine how well you will do in your first year of college. Nothing more, nothing less. A recent study showed that it doesn’t even do that well. And the same reasons it doesn’t work for college admissions is the same reasons it doesn’t work for employers:

1) It is primarily an indicator of how well someone takes a standardized test. It doesn’t tell you whether someone will be reliable, honest, hard-working, a team player – all those things that most employers value.

2) It is arguably slewed toward students from wealthy families, since they have the means to pay thousands of dollars for test prep courses to help improve their scores.

3) It is possible to cheat. Google Cheating and SAT and some people will even tell you how to do it.

So, if you are hiring someone based on a high SAT, there is a good chance they are either 1) good at taking tests 2) rich or 3) cheaters. Yeah, just the kind of diversity we want in our workforce.

Those who have studied what it takes to succeed in college have found that a high school GPA is a much better predictor of college success than any standardized test. This makes sense, since the ability to get good grades means having smarts, discipline and time management skills, all of which come in handy in academia. These same principle applies to the workplace. The best predictor of future performance is past performance.

Some of the companies who use the SAT will argue that they need some way to measure entry-level employees who have no work experience. My answer to them is that if a candidate never worked part-time in a grocery store, held an internship, volunteered at an animal shelter, or had some sort of employment, paid or not, pass on them. They work out, but you don’t want to be the one to have to break them in.

In the Wall Street Journal article, CVent’s Eric Eden stated, “Knowing it’s a standardized test is enough for us.” He’s their VP of Marketing, so I supposed that makes him an expert on identifying high performers. I’m sure he wouldn’t offer a new product or service without a lot of research behind it, so why does his company take the SAT at face value? At least Google knows better. The same article stated that their research showed no evidence of a correlation between high performing employees and the SAT.

The only thing an SAT tells you about a person is their SAT score. Useless at work, unless, of course, your job is to sit at a desk and fill in hundreds of little circles without going outside the lines.


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