The Test and the Art of Thinking

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Test and the Art of Thinking Movie Poster Image
Standardized test docu shows problems, offers no solutions.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 85 minutes

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Positive Messages

The SAT and ACT tests don't measure or improve math, science, or language abilities. They don't help students learn or measure what they know. But a federal law that allows states to use those tests for accountability purposes means our schools are in danger of having those tests become the basis of their curricula (teaching to the test). The tests don't help college admissions offices because they don't tell administrators anything about the person who took the test. But for some reason they're still widely used, and in fact use is on the increase. If you want higher education, these tests are hurdles in the way of what you want, so you just have to do whatever it takes to get them out of the way. Scores also influence how much colleges offer in scholarship money, adding more pressure on the students to get the highest score they can.

Positive Role Models & Representations

People interviewed are from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities, and women are well represented, too. The students and adults trying to help them are hardworking and sincere.


Someone is quoted using "bulls--t" once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Test and the Art of Thinking is a documentary about the flaws and drawbacks of the SAT and ACT standardized tests so widely used in the college admissions process. There's no content of concern except for one use of "bulls--t" in a quote. Nothing positive about the tests is presented; the best that can be said about the tests is that if you want to pursue higher education, these tests are blocking your path and you've just got to do whatever it takes to move them out of your way.

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What's the story?

THE TEST AND THE ART OF THINKING points out that despite plenty of evidence that the SAT and ACT don't measure what kids learn in school, don't help improve learning or academic achievement, and don't provide meaningful information to college admissions offices, the number of students taking these tests is on the rise. It points out some of the inequalities in the system, concentrating mainly on the advantages of wealth and disadvantages to low-income students. It also emphasizes the need to learn the right strategies for the best scores instead of needing to master any sort of language, math, or science knowledge.

Is it any good?

This is a well-meaning, one-sided documentary that doesn't try to do anything beyond open people's eyes to the pitfalls and drawbacks of the SAT and ACT college admissions tests. And because The Test and the Art of Thinking doesn't offer any solutions or calls to action, viewers may be left feeling saddened and frustrated by the whole business. It's a thorough, and for many eye-opening, look at the differences between what's learned in school and what's on these tests, and at the tests themselves as tools for college admissions and scholarships.

It's also a really good opportunity to talk to your high schoolers about whether and why to take the SAT or the ACT, what exactly is being tested (knowledge, skill, intelligence, etc.?), what opportunities are available if they do well, what they might lose by not taking them, and how they can get the scores they need to achieve their goals.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the viewpoint of The Test and the Art of Thinking. Should documentaries present balanced views of an issue, or is it OK for them to take a strong stance one way or the other?

  • Did any information in the movie surprise you? Did you learn anything new about the SAT and ACT tests? Did it change how you feel or what you think about them?

  • What's your experience with the SAT and the ACT? Have you studied or taken the tests yet? Do the experiences of the students, parents, and others seem realistic?

Movie details

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