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SAT 600!
October 26, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Colin Fahey goes to great lengths to get the lowest possible score on the SAT. Includes a facsimile of his persuasive essay arguing that he should receive a score of zero.
posted by grouse (42 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

This reads like an insane art project that is supposed to be mocking some form of academic writing that I am not familiar with. I am left with a not entirely unpleasant level of confusion, and look forward to enlightenment in the form of future comments in the thread.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

He accidentally answered one question correctly. He couldn't even fail properly.
posted by Justinian at 8:21 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

posted by rtha at 8:22 PM on October 26, 2012

Reading that reminds me that the math portion of the SAT was a source of great anxiety to me, while the language portion seemed bizarrely easy. I suck at math.
posted by Huck500 at 8:28 PM on October 26, 2012

So what was his score?
posted by LarryC at 8:29 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Damn, that's one run-on web page. Didn't read the whole thing, but skimming through, it did get me to chuckle a few times.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is bloody brilliant! Yeah I skimmed too but the parts you stop to check out along the way are great. The essay is a highlight of course..
posted by ReeMonster at 8:32 PM on October 26, 2012

"(Your essay may contain up to 32 characters.)"
posted by smcdow at 8:36 PM on October 26, 2012

Getting every problem wrong is actually very, very difficult. If he just guessed the answers at random, he would get one fifth of them right. So by getting every problem wrong, he actually has to show almost complete command of the subjects, because he has to know the right answer to avoid it. His one right answer was his mistake.

The essay question is the easiest to not get right. Getting a 200 is probably not that hard, since they penalize for wrong answers, but getting every problem wrong is damn near impossible without also being able to get perfect scores on the tests.
posted by Xoc at 8:46 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suck at math.

Don't say that, Huck500. You only think that you're bad at math and keep reinforcing that belief. Hey, you're good enough at it to know when you're wrong about something.

What do people, who don't even know they made mistakes, think their math skills are?
posted by porpoise at 8:51 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The bathroom part is hilarious.
I wanted to go to a bathroom during one of the breaks, but I discovered that I had to exit the building because, as far as I could tell at the time, the only bathroom for males had its entrance on the outside of the ground level of the building. The bathroom door was labeled "BOY'S ROOM", and suddenly I became very conscious of my age (35). Did this room have an implicit upper-age limit? Was it socially-unacceptable for me to use a urinal intended for boys between the ages of 14 and 19? It wasn't a public bathroom, per se, because it was on the grounds of a high school, so one could argue that there was a de facto age range expectation. I didn't know why I was anxious -- and the thought that only people with bad intentions or morally-corrupt imaginations would feel anxious made me more anxious. Anyhow, I simply went in to the bathroom and tried to remain in the moment, without thoughts, focusing on completing the task as quickly as possible. But I knew that if I saw something such as an unusually-small urinal, or a sink closer to the floor than sinks in most public bathrooms, then I would panic and have to run out of the bathroom. Fortunately, the bathroom looked like any other public bathroom. Even so, it bothered me that I was forced by circumstances to confront a distracting psychological and sociological problem in the middle of taking the SAT. I don't have time for this, id! My super-ego is trying to fail the SAT.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:53 PM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Getting every problem wrong is actually very, very difficult.


If you look at the question he got right, it was actually because of a failure of reading comprehension. (It was quite a difficult passage that required you to understand the context in order to decipher the meaning of the short excerpt in question).

In other words, he was too stupid to fail completely.
posted by unSane at 8:55 PM on October 26, 2012

Whenever I have to use elementary school toilets, I invariably sit halfway down and then fall onto them the rest of the way.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

This guy is way too creative to take the SAT. I like the sections at the end about alternative SAT testing, such as testing for scam-ability, paradox resolution, and paranormal abilities.

"9. It can be inferred from the text that
$700K US will be "set aside for expenses
incurred during the business".

How could transferring money from one account
to another possibly cost $700K US?

(A) Who cares? My cut is $3.15M US!
(B) Overnight delivery of fifteen tons of
(C) Non-affiliated bank Automated Teller Machine
(ATM) fees!
(D) Conversion from the metric system!
(E) It takes money to make money! Nothing
ventured, nothing gained! Your fear and
cynicism will prevent you from ever
experiencing life and wealth. Pathetic!"
posted by Red Desk at 9:13 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Christ, this must have taken weeks, if not months, to put together. I am simultaneously impressed and puzzled by the effort put forth.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I laughed at 19.5.5 so hard that my wife asked me to leave the room
posted by the theory of revolution at 9:24 PM on October 26, 2012

I was laughing all the way until I read he had a wff-n-proof set. He is the only other person I know who has a set. Maybe I should worry.
posted by grimjeer at 9:32 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:55 PM on October 26, 2012

I admit that I didn't have an open mind when I read Colin's web page. When I clicked on this post, I was thinking about an article I had just read in the Chicago Reader by Ben Joravsky regarding standardized testing in Chicago public kindergartens.
When all is said and done, kindergarteners will have spent up to 60 days of class time—or a third of the school year—taking various standardized tests.
Joravsky briefly described the difficulty of testing 5 year olds (i.e., since they can't read, teachers must test them one-on-one, while the remainder of the class is occupied with busy work) and questions the practice of using these test scores to measure teacher competence. The article hits a still raw nerve with me since I reluctantly left Chicago for a suburb with a good school system when my kids were in grade school/middle school. (We really tried to make it work, but found CPS to be every bit as bad as it's said to be.)

I really wanted Colin's web page to be an insightful statement about the limits of standardized testing. So, I was disappointed to find a very long example of what is essentially a high school prank. Nothing brilliant or hysterically funny to me, not that this matters one way or the other.

No harm, no foul on Colin's part—he's doing what high school students do. But, Christ, this must have taken a lot of time. I hope he thinks it was worth it.
posted by she's not there at 9:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is going to be all well and good, until he tries to get a job at Google.
posted by happyroach at 9:59 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a great passage, vegartanipla. If you've not read Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, you ought to take a look at it. There's an extended passage on urinal culture and etiquette that's absolutely riotous.

What follows, believe it or not, is a partial quote:
This happened about forty-five times-until one night in the very busy bathroom of a movie theater at the end of the movie, I discovered the trick. When someone takes his position next to you, and you hear his nose breathing and you sense his proven ability to urinate time after time in public, and at the same time you feel your own muscles closing on themselves as hermit crabs pull into their shells, imagine yourself turning and dispassionately urinating onto the side of his head. Imagine your voluminous stream making fleeting parts in his hair, like the parts that appear in the grass of a lawn when you try to water it with a too-pressurized nozzle-setting. Imagine drawing an X over his face; watch him fending the spray off with his arm, puffing and spluttering to keep it from getting in his mouth; and his protestations: "Excuse me? What are you doing? Hey! Pff, pff, pff." It always worked. If I found myself in very difficult circumstances—flanked on both sides by colleagues, both of whom said hello to me and then began confidently to go—I might have to sharpen the image slightly, imagining myself urinating directly into one of their shock-widened eyeballs. (Baker 84-85)
Baker, Nicholson. The Mezzanine: A Novel. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
posted by mistersquid at 10:06 PM on October 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Also, previously (sorta, it's Ask MeFi).
posted by mistersquid at 10:28 PM on October 26, 2012

Mr Squid, that's hilarious. I always picture a rather heavy-set friend of mine doing high-kicks while wearing only socks and a tee-shirt. But that sounds good, too!
posted by rebent at 10:31 PM on October 26, 2012

mistersquid - One day while at work, I walk into the staff bathroom and inexplicably find a faucet on full-blast, wasting large quantities of water. I turn it off, and then hear a protest from one of the stalls. "No, no, I need that on! Please, turn it back on!"

So I turned it back on. Not to quite the same intensity of pressure, as really, that was super wasteful. And then I felt like since I was clearly there to go and made myself really obvious, I couldn't just back out and leave. So fraught with nerves about how I saddened the other stall and now super aware of their presence, and the noise of the still wasteful faucet, and the thoughts about whether the lower level I put it on was functioning as well for them, and also the bated anticipation of waiting for them to turn it off since statistically it was likely if I walked in mid-business that they'd finish before I did, and really wanting to avoid meeting them and sharing post-faucet-request eye-contact, I awkwardly went about my business. I do not think that imagining myself peeing on her would have helped.

Luckily I didn't recognize the voice of the protester because TMI was made for that situation.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:43 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

he has to know the right answer to avoid it.

No, he could just have a good eye for the most obviously wrong answer to each question, without knowing which of the more plausible options is right. For instance, I don't know the right answer to his first example of a math question (4.1.2). But (A) jumps out at me as the most obviously wrong answer. (Of course it's true for some values of x that x < x^2 < x^3.)
posted by John Cohen at 11:12 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

By actually reading the terms and conditions when registering for the SAT, the author notices this gem: "The correlation between [...] combined verbal and math scores and freshman GPA is .52; [...]"

The mind boggles.
posted by zsazsa at 11:55 PM on October 26, 2012

Can somebody please tell me the answers to his "19.3 Crazy Problems"?
posted by robcorr at 12:06 AM on October 27, 2012

True...I revise my above comment: he only needs to identify one wrong answer to get the answer wrong, which doesn't require quite as strong of knowledge as being able to get the answer right. However, it does take pretty strong knowledge to be able to identify wrong answers in every case except one. I still posit that getting every problem wrong actually shows strong knowledge of the material, but I think it might take some testing across a large set of high school students to prove it!
posted by Xoc at 12:08 AM on October 27, 2012

the webpage linked is a work of staggering genius.
posted by at 2:33 AM on October 27, 2012

Just in case people are confused, this guy is not in high school. He is 35 years old. I think he has kids of his own? Anyway, he is just doing this for fun, not actually trying (or actively not trying) to get into college.
posted by onlyconnect at 6:09 AM on October 27, 2012

Wonderfully executed and documented. I give it full marks.
posted by meinvt at 6:19 AM on October 27, 2012

My kids had a very brilliant friend in high school who did this, I think he got every question wrong. It was a small school and some people were pissed that his scores would bring the school's average down.
posted by mareli at 6:50 AM on October 27, 2012

I really wanted Colin's web page to be an insightful statement about the limits of standardized testing. So, I was disappointed to find a very long example of what is essentially a high school prank.

I disagree. His discussion of how to prepare a mid-range-scoring essay on any topic, for instance, is completely spot-on.
posted by gerryblog at 7:52 AM on October 27, 2012

OMG my fellow test scorers are going to absolutely freak when they see this.

It can be quite oppressive, sitting in a secure facility for 5 or 6 months and staring at a constant stream of test books containing an almost infinite variety of enormous stupidity. There are times when I can sense myself becoming stupid too, just by reading the papers. We're testing higher level math right now, the stream of errors is so great that sometimes I feel like my grasp of basic math becomes corrupted. I could deal with one student drawing diagrams that show the interior angles of a triangle add up to 360. But when you see it over and over, you start to believe it. Then you're checking their work on Law of Sines and oh crap what the fuck is this? Oh, another 360 triangle student. Now the really tough part is when we get a question that has two ways to get to the same answer, down to several decimal places of accuracy, and one method is totally wrong. The incredible variety of convoluted thought processes is sometimes so hard to decipher that it can take 15 or 20 minutes to go through a simple paper and find the step where they went wrong. And even then, sometimes they still get points for correctness. Just as an example, you can work a trig problem on a calculator in radians mode, the answers will be totally wrong, but if your process was right, you can still get anything BUT the highest score. It drives us nuts trying to check the work on papers like that. And don't even get me started on trig identity proofs. Some students will take a leisurely walk through every identity in the book, converting the statement into continuously more complex forms, until they have to walk it back through the identities that are mandatory, but by now, the equation is so convoluted that even our project leaders have difficulty determining whether it is a valid proof.

My favorite pastime is what I call "The Graph of Incorrect Graphs." We get a problem that requires students to graph something, say a parabola or something. I take a 3x3 square post-it note, draw xy axes on it, and then when I see an egregiously incorrect graph, I transfer it to the Graph of Incorrect Graphs, superimposing it on top of the others. It can sometimes be devilishly difficult to correctly transcribe the incorrect graph, that's how bad they are. By the time we are done scoring that prompt, it looks like a big scribble of spaghetti, along with a bunch of dots floating around. One student was supposed to draw curve with a small empty circle indicating a discontinuity, instead he drew an enormous dot about half an inch across, and nothing else. I transferred it to the graph, it hung over all the other answers like a big black hole. I showed it to the project leader, I said it wasn't a discontinuity, it was a singularity. He laughed. That's our sort of gallows humor amongst mathematicians.

It is my hypothesis that if I was given an infinite supply of incorrect graphs, and I could plot them all accurately, eventually my Graph of Incorrect Graphs would look somewhat like a big black field with a faint white trace showing the negative space where the correct plot should be. Since some incorrect graphs cross the correct graph, the correct graph would never be completely white. The probability of incorrect graphs approaching or crossing the correctly graphed line is reduced as the distance reduces between the incorrect plot and the correct plot. So the correct plot would look somewhat like a fuzzy, light line, blurring out and becoming darker as the distance from the correctly plotted line increases. If the distribution of the infinite variety of incorrect plots was completely random, eventually you could produce a fairly good approximation of the inverse of the correct plot, but this is only because you are eliminating correct answers from the set of plots. However, the variety of incorrect plots is not randomly distributed because kids' misconceptions tend to be grouped around a few basic ideas (e.g. they plot sine waves instead of parabolas). It is my belief that an entirely new scientific field of Stupidometry could be developed by doing statistical analysis of the groupings of these misconceptions and how students apply them on tests.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:07 AM on October 27, 2012 [22 favorites]

This is extraordinary. And hilarious.

I've thought for a while that the SAT is bullshit and that high school students should organize to boycott it. Learning that it only has a .5 correlation with college grades makes me even more convinced that the test is worthless.
posted by medusa at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2012

medusa, what would you use instead? There are wide disparities in educational achievement by race, gender, and social class. If you select college students on something other than academic testing, you will probably get colleges full of only rich white kids.

College boards aren't just a way for colleges to select students. The entire testing industry is a long term experiment in educational methodology. Most testing companies use their results to research and develop educational programs to help kids learn better and improve their academic performance. College exams and high level tests like CLEP are just the top end of the industry. It starts early in k12.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:03 PM on October 27, 2012

robcorr, the first one is 1:1, which I suspected from the beginning, but it's a strange combination of madness and relief once your pile of fractions containing pi and sqrt(2) all cancel out, leaving you with 1/2:1/2.

The second one was conceptually too difficult for me to be desirable procrastination fodder, so I have no idea.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:57 PM on October 27, 2012

Thanks - I thought it would be 1:1 (because that seems like a neat number) but I need to redo my algebra as I came up with 1:(pi-1) which can't be right.
posted by robcorr at 9:24 PM on October 27, 2012

In the mid-80's, when I took the old-style (800 math, 800 verbal possible) SAT, there was an urban legend that getting every question wrong would result in a 1600 score, since the only way to get every question wrong would be to know the correct answers.

What a relief to finally see the legend exploded -- I'm not sure why we believed it, since it's clearly mathematically easier to get them all wrong than to get them all right.
posted by SubterraneanRedStateBlues at 7:11 PM on October 28, 2012

This is so fucking insane and hilarious.

It's worth continuing to scroll till you get to bits like, The following audio file (MP3) was composed by assigning musical notes ( A-440 Hz, B-493 Hz, C-523 Hz, D-587 Hz, E-659 Hz ) to the sequence of 160 correct multiple-choice responses on the 2005.3.12 SAT (form code BWBA) and the thing with the D&D dice.
posted by latkes at 7:31 PM on October 28, 2012

Oh my god this thing is so funny and crazy: What if the essay section required entering the essay by filling in bubbles, just like all other parts of the SAT?

posted by latkes at 7:35 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

robcorr, the first one is 1:1, which I suspected from the beginning, but it's a strange combination of madness and relief once your pile of fractions containing pi and sqrt(2) all cancel out, leaving you with 1/2:1/2.

I gave this problem to our math scorers today as a challenge. I wrote it on the whiteboard where the project leader gives us training. Sometimes we issue puzzles on the board, over in the corner.

The challenge was accepted by 4 people, all with math degrees. Our project leader walked by, looked at it, stopped dead in his tracks, picked up a piece of paper, and started transcribing it so he could work on it in his office. I told him NO, don't do it! You'll get distracted and you're in the middle of a task due in an hour, you'll never get your work done.

The guy sitting next to me looked at it, gave it a stern look, and said "It's 1:1, isn't it?" I said yeah, but don't tell anyone. He's probably our best math guy.

A woman behind me worked on it for 2 hours. She came to me and asked if her solution was right. She gave me a page full of equations scribbled everywhere, I looked through it trying to find the bottom line solution, which was something ridiculous like (7pi -2)/4pi. I said no, and she blurted out, "oh! I just noticed where I made the error, I used the radius instead of the diameter." She came back in about 5 minutes with 1:1.

While this woman was working on the fix, another woman came up to me, and whispered, "It's 1:1, right?" I said yes, and let me see your work. She did it in about 4 lines. She was so proud.

As I thought about this problem, it seemed familiar. I suddenly realized why. I have seen it before. It is a Sangaku.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:40 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

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