‘The Test & The Art Of Thinking’ Examines History of Standardized Testing

ap·ti·tude/ˈaptəˌt(y)o͞od/: a natural ability to do something; suitability or fitness.

From filmmaker Michael Arlen Davis, “The Test & The Art of Thinking” questions the age-old practice of gauging student success and college admission through standardized testing.

Long considered antiquated by educators, students and administrators, the SAT is pulled apart in this documentary that will either comfort or frustrate students and parents, depending on how they view their test-taking ability. The documentary tackles why and how a single test is supposed to determine a student’s knowledge, intelligence, worth and future.

Of course, no test could do all that. But Davis makes the case that the SAT certainly doesn’t. “The Test & The Art of Thinking” leans heavily on the well-supported argument that it’s more a test of pattern, strategy and aptitude than one of knowledge and intelligence. Davis attempts to reprogram our preconceived notions about what makes a student “smart.”

“The SAT is not a test of what you know, it’s a test of how you think,” a student says one point in the film. Using testimonials and footage of real tutoring sessions, Davis breaks down how the SAT is a test of aptitude rather than knowledge, dating back to its 1920s origins. (Though it was initially designed to open education to everyone, it has actually narrowed access through the years, with some high-caliber institutions blindly accepting only students with high scores.)

Tutors weigh different strategies and approaches to help students boost a number that they – and their parents – believe determines their future, whether or not it has anything to do with the curriculum they’re learning in school. The effects of the timed test, the trickiness of the questions and the skew of the results are all discussed in detail from every corner of the education community. 

Thankfully the film is not a mere take-down: it provides examples of actions that have been taken to dismantle the old ways. Some colleges have even opted to make submitting test scores “optional” for applicants. It has become increasingly common as the COVID-19 pandemic forces students to stay home and learn on their laptops, away from the classroom and in-person testing.

If this pandemic and election have proven anything, it’s that this country needs vast education reform for its citizens to better understand the society in which they live, from science to government to ethics. Davis’ film examines the higher ed system as a whole, ultimately showing that “intellect” is subjective – and often difficult to measure. This informative documentary, just like a student’s life, is about far more than a test. 

Many attitudes about school and study are examined in “The Test & The Art of Thinking,” ranging from outrage to acceptance. But there’s one thing no student, tutor, teacher or administrator is about the SAT, and the importance of learning: apathetic. 

The film will have a TVOD release on iTunes, Amazon and GATHR Nov. 17. A Watch @ Home Cinema release from Abramorama is set for Nov. 20. Photos courtesy of Canobie Films.