Over-Competition and the SAT

(This article was written back in June 2009 after the original DYD launch, but although the scoring has changed, the impact of the SAT test is still the same)

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, author Sue Shellenbarger documents her preparation for the SAT. The back story is that she is a 57 mom and her son challenged her to take the SAT and she obliged.

Here’s the story: High-School Senior: I Took the SAT Again After 41 Years

The author poses the question that perhaps today’s kids have it tougher than they used to. She tells the audience her original SAT scores from 1967 were 1440, however these scores are adjusted to fit today’s rising SAT scores. But on her initial practice test she scored in the 1120-1280 range. Both the practice scores and the original scores were achieved with absolutely no studying. In 1967 that was the norm, but today kids study before the SAT. She hopped on the bandwagon and bought an SAT study guide. After six weeks of hard studying she took the test and scored a 1400, 40 points less than her original score.

But does this mean that today’s kids have it harder than they used to?

When you look Sue’s test scores from her original 1967 test and her first practice test in 2009, it becomes clear that the test has indeed become harder. But why is it harder? Some might be quick to say that today’s kids are just simply smarter due to survival of the fittest. But I say that today’s kids aren’t necessarily smarter, but just more competitive. In 1967 students didn’t study, and now they do. Thus, after one person decides to start studying everybody must follow suit, because the SAT is based on a bell shaped curve. So does this mean that today’s kids have it harder? I say yes, because they are being forced to be more competitive, and not just in the SAT.

Does this breed success or failure?

Many people point out that being more competitive is not a bad thing, and that kids should embrace the fact that they have it tougher, because it will only make the world better… because competition, after all, breeds innovation. I have trouble fully agreeing with this. Although it may be true that competition breeds innovation, I think that at such a young age competition causes tremendous amounts of stress. It’s not uncommon for college students to have mental breakdowns, just do a google search for ‘suicide bridge cornell’.

But stress isn’t the only negative aspect of over-competition. Kids are being bred for success at a very young age. Instead of having leisure time with friends, they are inside studying or learning some kind of trade. Unfortunately when this happens the development of social skills are overlooked, and social skills are very important in becoming successful, personally and financially.

I’m not here telling you that competition is bad, because that would be false. I’m here saying that over-competition at a young age is very detrimental to the young leaders of tomorrow. The reason is that all of this over-competition leads to today’s kids living their lives motivated by fear. They want to get into the right schools so that they can get the right jobs so that they can make the right income. They fear failure and they fear being left in the dust of life’s bell shaped curve.

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