The Origins of the SAT

In this video by BuzzFeed, we learn that the SAT was created in 1920 by a eugenicist named Carl Brigham. Brigham believed that some races had traits that were superior to those of other races. He made the SAT to reinforce the belief that Jewish people, mediterranean people, and people of color were less intelligent than white people. One of the people being interviewed in the video says, “Science: being used to back up racism since forever,” which, despite her ironic tone, is a claim that we know is very real from taking the class. Additionally, we can see how the intersections of race and class come into play in the SAT’s effort to perpetuate intersectional systems of oppression. The video includes a graph of the average SAT scores in 2013 based upon the household income of the students who took it. From the graph, it is clear that students that come from households with lower incomes scored much lower than those that come from households with higher incomes, which shows how not only race, but also class impacts the performance on these tests due to the accessibility to test prep material.

This video is important in light of the discussions we have been having in class because it expands our ideas of what a living laboratory is. It makes us realize that we, as students, can be participating in living laboratories, whether we are cognizant of it or not. In a sense, we have had to “pass through” living laboratories in order to get here to Princeton by taking tests such as the SAT. In a sense, we were part of the very experiment that Brigham has created, and, depending upon our intersecting identities, we were either proving him right or wrong. This shows how living laboratories can take on various forms and how they can persist over long periods of time.

Some personal questions that I have come up with after watching the video are the following: Before taking tests like the SAT, were any of you cognizant of the ways in which you were disadvantaged due to the identities that you possessed? Were you cognizant of the other types of people taking the test when you took it? When I took the SAT in high school, I quickly noticed that I was one of the few public schoolers there. Also, I noticed that most of the test takers were Korean, majority of whose population is upper middle class in Guam. Finally, do you believe that, if students were exposed to videos like these before they took these tests, would perform differently, knowing that they were made in order to prove that some people were smarter than others because of who they are and where they come from?

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