Mar 9, 2017 by



  1. By Ian Lindquist


Excerpts from this article:

High-stakes testing has come under scrutiny at the K-12 level in the past few years, mostly due to No Child Left Behind. But one testing issue that receives comparatively less attention is the college entrance examination, which greatly affects student life at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. While these exams allow post-secondary institutions to evaluate applicants according to a common measure, they also help to determine the shape and content of the secondary-school curriculum. Because of the major influence these exams have, it is worth thinking through whether and how improvements can be made to the status quo.

Classic Learning Initiatives (CLI) has developed a new college entrance exam, the Classic Learning Test (CLT). I recently had the chance to speak with CLI’s founder and CEO, Jeremy Tate, about the need for a new test and his vision of why getting a college entrance exam right is so important. He and his company’s work raise many questions about college entrance exams: What is the right content for such a test? What roles do college entrance exams play in addition to measuring student performance – and is this good? Ought there to be multiple measures for students trying to attend post-secondary institutions – what advantages and disadvantages does this contain?

While readers may not agree with everything here, I hope that reading this will spur them to consider such questions.

-Ian Lindquist


QUESTION:  LINDQUIST – The SAT and ACT have held sway in the college admissions process for what seems like forever. As the former owner of his own SAT test prep company, where do you see a need for a new test?

ANSWER:  TATE– Accountability is important and I believe the SAT and ACT serve an important role, not just as college entrance exams, but as reliable metrics for school districts as they work to track student progress. However, the SAT and ACT have become tests that are aligned with academic standards (the Common Core standards in particular) that favor public school students who are receiving an education aligned with those standards. A student coming from a classical school or home school has spent 12 years immersed in material that will never be on the SAT and ACT. The emphasis on classical and fictional texts in these environments stands in sharp contrast to the emphasis on informational texts in public schools. Although students educated in those environments may still do well on the SAT or ACT, they are missing a metric that can really showcase their ability. The Classic Learning Test (CLT) seeks to be this tool.


QUESTION:  Tell us more about the Classic Learning Test. What is it and what does it test?

ANSWER:  The CLT has been adopted by 40 colleges, including Hillsdale College, Grove City College, Thomas Aquinas College, and St. John’s College. As with the SAT, the CLT is proctored and is accepted as an official college admissions test. The CLT asks students 120 questions in 120 minutes. Unlike the SAT and ACT, the CLT is distinctly western. Students are presented with reading passages from the greatest thinkers in the history of the western thought tradition.

There have been four official CLTs offered to date, and these tests have featured popular authors such as C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gregory Mendel. In contrast to the SAT/ACT, the CLT has also retained some distinctive features of an aptitude test such as analogies and logic questions. The question below is an example of a logic question:

An explorer discovers a new type of cat with purple and white stripes. Every cat with purple and white stripes also has a brown nose. If a cat does not have a brown nose, then which of the following is true?

  1. A) It only has white fur.
  2. B) It has no stripes.
  3. C) It does not have purple and white stripes.
  4. D) It has a black nose.

… For the New SAT, the content is Common Core, which emphasizes informational texts over classical or fictional texts. Students coming from classical schools will still do well on the New SAT, but the test is disconnected, rather than a reflection, of what they learn in school.


QUESTION:  Does the test favor students who have received a classical education?

ANSWER:  The CLT is not exactly “classical.” The name of the test is the “Classic” Learning Test rather than the “Classical” Learning Test. We believe this is an important distinction. By “classic,” we simply mean that we focus on texts that have stood the test of time. We also mean our test seeks to affirm an education based on virtue. Our test development team uses the classical affirmation of “the good, the true, and the beautiful” when selecting reading passages, but this guiding standard does not put public school students at a disadvantage.  Any student who has had an education that includes values and who understands the inherent connection between knowledge and virtue will do well on the CLT.


QUESTION:  What have you learned since you started this project?

ANSWER:  When we began developing the CLT, our team didn’t fully grasp the extent to which the SAT and ACT serve as “college matchmakers.” When students take the SAT or ACT, their personal information is sold to countless colleges. These colleges then pursue the student, and usually the colleges with the best marketing machines get the students. In addition, the SAT and ACT are now pushing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This drives students away from liberal arts colleges and towards big state universities. We believe colleges with a strong core curriculum and a rich liberal arts tradition are worth every penny, and we do what we can to encourage students to pursue an education at traditional liberal arts colleges.


QUESTION:  What has been the reception from schools and parents to introducing a new college admissions test?

ANSWER:  Every college has been different in terms of their openness to the CLT. Our closest relationships are with the King’s College in NYC, Grove City College, Bryan College, Christendom College, and Wyoming Catholic College. And parents have been ecstatic, especially those who are frustrated with the Common Core standards. These stakeholders believe the CLT has more to offer than the SAT or ACT.


QUESTION:  What are the implications of the test for education policy?

ANSWER:  Several states offer publicly funded scholarships towards state universities. To receive these scholarships, students must do well on the SAT or ACT. Although the SAT and ACT continue to be a good fit for public school students, other students may find themselves at a distinct disadvantage. The existence of the CLT begs the question of whether taxpayer dollars should be funneled through tests that effectively impose a national education curriculum/standard via college entrance exams. The CLT looks to Hillsdale College (the most recent college to adopt the CLT), as a guiding light in terms of educational policy. Hillsdale does not receive a single penny in federal funding and has maintained a degree of independence and autonomy as a result. The CLT plans to do the same.

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