The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

By Nicholas Lemann
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"The Big Test" by Nicholas Lemann is a compelling examination of the SAT, one of the most influential standardized tests in America. Lemann explores the historical origins and social implications of this controversial exam.

Unearthing the test's roots in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century, Lemann traces its evolution into a powerful tool for social sorting. He reveals how the SAT became an emblem of meritocracy, promising equal opportunity but often reinforcing existing inequalities.

Lemann introduces readers to influential figures involved in the test's development, including its architect Henry Chauncey and College Board president William Farish. Through their stories, he uncovers the motivations and agendas behind the standardization of college admissions.

Examining pivotal moments in the SAT's history, such as the introduction of an optional essay section and the use of the test for affirmative action decisions, Lemann illuminates the test's impact on educational policy and social mobility.

Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Lemann presents a balanced view of the SAT, exposing both its flaws and its strengths. He probes the debate surrounding the test's reliability, fairness, and effectiveness in predicting college success.

Ultimately, "The Big Test" challenges readers to consider the deeper implications of standardized testing in our society. Lemann prompts us to question whether the SAT truly measures intelligence or if it perpetuates a flawed system of meritocracy.
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