Chris Hanna: My conflicting views of Collegeboard, the gatekeeper of my soul

Otto Tielemans

About two years ago, when I was signing up for my junior classes, I came across an important decision: I could either take College Prep English and United States history, or make the jump to the Advanced Placement English and U.S. History combined course.

Going with the latter, I sat in Geib’s class the following school year and he uttered six words I shall never forget: The Collegeboard now owns your soul.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Collegeboard, allow me to give you a brief synopsis: the Collegeboard is a “not-for-profit” organization that owns the SAT (which is basically a necessity to get into any college nowadays), sets the guidelines and creates the college-credit tests for the AP curriculum, has major ties to over 6,000 educational institutions across the nation. It’s essentially in a steady, forced relationship with every high school student who wishes to achieve anything in this world, including yours truly. Oh, and their logo has an acorn in it. {sidebar id=65}

My first gripe is with the prices of the Collegeboard’s products. The SAT, without a fee waiver, costs a student $50 to register for, and there is no guarantee that the test will start on time, be distraction-free, or even provide pencils for the more forgetful of us.

If you want to send your SAT scores to colleges, then that’ll be $11 per college, and your scores should arrive in a month. Want your scores to be delivered sooner? That’ll be an extra $31.

Planning on prepping for the SAT test? Then you’ll need the Official Collegeboard SAT Prep Book, only $31.99. Don’t trust the Collegeboard’s traditional method of scoring (which has proven to be flawed in the past)? Well, you only need to pay the small fee of $55 to have someone hand score your test, in which you will forfeit online access to your full score report.

And AP Tests? That’s a whole other ballgame that starts at $89.

Call me crazy, but it seems as though this “not-for-profit” actually seems to be making quite a bit of profit. I know that there are fee waivers available for certain students, but I don’t see how a non-profit organization could charge prices like these to students who aren’t taking money baths every night.

You could take the ACT instead, but from my experiences, the two tests don’t seem to measure the same skills, and you’re most likely going to better at one than the other.

Speaking of measuring skills, “standardized” testing has proven to be a serious deal-breaker in our relationship. Let me give you an example: I was reviewing an AP Literature Test Prep Book, and it offered examples of questions one might see on the actual exam.

The sample question was, “The speaker’s tone in the passage can best be described as…” The answer options presented were: satirical, despairing, contemptuous, irreverent and whimsical.

I’m no English major, but if you look up “contemptuous” and “irreverent” in the Oxford Thesaurus, you’ll find that they both share the synonyms, “scornful,” “disdainful,” and even “contemptuous;” they also share the same antonym, “respectful.” Call me crazy, but I think these two words are somewhat similar.

Unless the original author of the piece in the test was consulted and directly stated that the tone was indeed irreverent and not contemptuous (which is rather unlikely, due to the Collegeboard’s love affair with pre-1900s literature), then I argue that a student’s answer is his or her own interpretation of that piece of literature. And since opinions and viewpoints obviously cannot be standardized, then isn’t making one perspective as final and standard a disregard of individualized interpretation?

While I admit that the majority of questions do not follow this example, I argue that the Collegeboard’s set measurements of our smarts do not represent what they should. While no test could possibly measure our success in life, I find it hard to accept that my college admittance should be heavily influenced by whether or not I can write an effective essay in 40 minutes or answer 50 multiple-choice questions in an hour.

At the end of the day, however, I find it difficult to completely hate the Collegeboard. After all, they are the reason for the Advanced Placement curriculum’s existence, which I love because passing their tests saves money in the long run.

Their website, bigfuture.com, has detailed information on just about every college in the United States, and has heavily influenced where I’ve applied to college. And even though I may never forgive them for the AP English synthesis essay prompt they gave me last year (I don’t know how to restructure the U.S. postal system, and at that point in time, I honestly didn’t care), I cannot deny their job is an extremely difficult one, which they execute rather adequately.

Oh, and if the Collegeboard is reading this, please mail me back my soul. I miss it.

What do you think?