Learning

Stupid Measures of Intelligence

I’ve been spending some of my summer studying for the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test).  It is, essentially, high school geometry and algebra, along with writing, grammar, spelling and critical thinking.  I wrote this test (gulp) 19 years ago, and scored very well.  But alas, my score is more than five years old, and so, they are making me write the dam$*d thing again.  As far as I know, the last time I used algebra and geometry was the last time I studied for the GMAT.  I guess they think I must have gotten “stupider” in the past twenty years.

Then I read an excerpt from Chris Hedges’ book, Empire of Illusion (p. 101 – 102):

The undergraduate test-prep business takes in revenues of $726 million a year, up 25 percent from four years ago. … [After tutoring from the Princeton Review] … His reading score went up 130 points, pushing his test scores into the highest percentile in the country. Had he somehow become smarter thanks to the tutoring? Was he suddenly a better reader because he could quickly regurgitate a passage rather than think about it or critique it? Had he become more intelligent? Is it really a smart, effective measurement of intelligence to gauge how students read and answer narrowly selected multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over them?

Is the requirement to re-take the GMAT really just a way to generate revenue for the Graduate Admissions Council, the sponsoring organization of the GMAT testing system? According to the admissions council themselves, the GMAT has a median correlation between GMAT scores and first year business school grades of .51, in other words, explains about fifty percent of performance. This kind of makes sense, as we know that performance in most areas of endeavour are a combination of intelligence, diligence, hard work and resilience. While better than undergraduate grades (with a correlation of .28), GMAT results are not strongly predictive of success at business school.

It would seem to me that testing systems like the GMAT have a certain inborn bias to them. Does knowing high school geometry and algebra actually make you a better candidate for a PhD in Management? Probably not.  But it is a great way to screen out all but the most determined mid careerist looking to enter academia.  Why?  Because it means that someone in their late 40s now has to relearn a skill they haven’t used in almost twenty years, and will likely not ever use in their post-graduate education. It creates bias towards those whose first language is English.  A timed test does not measure understanding and intellectual ability, it measures speed. Many international students are just as intellectually capable to think, just slower to read and process information in a second language.

So now that I’ve finished my rant, I’m going back to study, because this is one battle I won’t win.

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