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No SATs, No Grades, No Problem
October 11, 2013 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Bard College has introduced a new admissions criteria: No consideration of SAT scores or grades. Students can now submit four 2500 word essays and be admitted if their work is judged to be of B+ or better quality by faculty. Is this system just waiting to be gamed?
posted by reenum (112 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bard's that weird non-traditional college that starts sending you stuff at around 15 years old offering an alternative 11th and 12th grade "early college" program.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:08 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Right, because grades and SAT scores aren't gamed.
posted by ZaneJ. at 1:09 PM on October 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


If they want to game themselves into a hippie liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, more power to 'em. Unless they have an actual desire to be there, they'll be bored as hell.
posted by Madamina at 1:13 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


THE QUESTION OF WHETHER A SYSTEM CAN BE GAMED IS AN INTERESTING ONE. INDEED IT IS A QUESTION AS OLD AS GAMING OR INDEED POSSIBLY SYSTEMS THEMSELVES. THE ENGLISH OXFORD DICTIONERY DEFINES A SYSTEM AS (...)
posted by boo_radley at 1:13 PM on October 11, 2013 [166 favorites]


But it's all good because you might become Steely Dan when you grow up.
posted by aught at 1:14 PM on October 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ditto what ZaneJ said. SATs are gamed. Thats what tutoring programs DO is teach you how to game them. Sigh.
posted by strixus at 1:15 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the objection is that being essentially take-home assignments, the essays would be much easier to game much more thoroughly. SAT prep courses give an advantage to students who can afford them, but when it comes time to take the test there's no one else who can do it for you. It's pretty much impossible to verify that an essay was really written by the student and not a hired gun.
posted by echo target at 1:17 PM on October 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


To ask such a question, one must suppose that there can exist a system, which restricts access to a desirable resource, but which will not at some point be gamed.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:17 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps there is a spectrum of gamability with "Hogwarts Sorting Hat" on one end and "check this box if you really REALLY think you're smart enough" on the other
posted by theodolite at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


...but when it comes time to take the test there's no one else who can do it for you.

Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers, you can absolutely hire someone to take the SATs for you and laminate a fake high school ID for them to get into the exam with.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I see no reason to believe that the SAT is of any value whatsoever. They are wise to ignore it, although it's not clear to me why they think grades don't measure academic achievement.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Neville gamed the sorting hat.
posted by The Whelk at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


Doesn't seem that much more flawed than any number of other metrics. Wealthy students effectively "game" the SATs through expensive prep classes that could basically get a well-trained monkey a decent score.

The cynical way to look at this isn't about poor kids vs rich ones (since rich kids have a huge advantage in private-college admissions in the first place: they can afford to actually accept), but that it's a way of muddying the admissions criteria to be more subjective, because more-objective criteria would lend themselves to a student body that Bard doesn't want. (Which, if you look at who tends to have good standardized-test performance and good classroom grades, it's really about Asians and women.)

Rather than get caught redlining otherwise-acceptable applications based on ethnicity or gender, it's a lot easier just to come up with more subjective admissions criteria and then make sure you impress upon the admissions officers the desire to have students that are a "good fit".
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


griphus: "...but when it comes time to take the test there's no one else who can do it for you.

Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers, you can absolutely hire someone to take the SATs for you and laminate a fake high school ID for them to get into the exam with.
"

This is done frequently.
posted by Mister_A at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2013


THE QUESTION OF WHETHER A SYSTEM CAN BE GAMED IS AN INTERESTING ONE. INDEED IT IS A QUESTION AS OLD AS GAMING OR INDEED POSSIBLY SYSTEMS THEMSELVES. THE ENGLISH OXFORD DICTIONERY DEFINES A SYSTEM AS

AN ORGANIZED OR CONNECTED GROUP OF OBJECTS. OBJECTS SUCH AS PERSONS, PLACES, OR THINGS. I WILL PROVE THE SYSTEM CAN NOT BE GAMED WITH THREE SEPARATE ARGUMENTS, BEFORE I RESTATE THIS SENTENCE IN A CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH.

AS PLATO ONCE SAID, ". . .
posted by Think_Long at 1:22 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and you still have to interview, and I'm sure, this being the internet age and all, that Bard admissions is going to have a look at your online footprint, and see if everything sort of matches up. And naturally this can be gamed too! But at a certain point, if you're gaming enough stuff, you're probably smart enough to go to Bard anyway.
posted by Mister_A at 1:23 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


But are you wealthy enough?
posted by Mister_A at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thinking back on it, the administration of the SATs at one of the schools I took it in (I had to take the damn thing three or four times) was such a shitshow that I don't think they even asked for ID. Just that letter indicating that I am to report to this high school on this day for this exam.

The actual exam was held in a cafeteria, which was L-shaped. There was only one proctor, who slowly made the rounds around the blind corner. Students were seated on both side of the cafeteria tables, with no room between them.

The two girls in front of me copied answers off one another furiously at the 5-minutes-til-pencils-down mark. As the proctor was going around collecting the exams and we were allowed to talk again I asked "did you guys make sure you had the same exam book?"

I will never forget the genuinely panicked looks on their faces.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on October 11, 2013 [83 favorites]


Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers

They've been rabid about government or school ID to sit for the SATs since I was in highschool, and that was not very recently.

I remember kids who had to go out and get an ID card specifically in order to take them. (If you didn't have a drivers license or a passport, you were stuck, since our school didn't issue acceptable photo IDs.) Now I think most schools issue students acceptable ID, for this purpose among others.

School IDs probably aren't that difficult to forge compared to actual government ID, but it prevents totally casual cheating at least.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:26 PM on October 11, 2013


Is this gaming's Citizen Kane?
posted by kmz at 1:26 PM on October 11, 2013


Neville gamed the sorting hat.
posted by The Whelk at 1:21 PM on October 11


This is my favorite Steely Dan song.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:28 PM on October 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


School IDs probably aren't that difficult to forge compared to actual government ID, but it prevents totally casual cheating at least.

Yeah, I meant "government ID" as opposed to "school ID" specifically. I should have been clearer. When I went to high school, school-issued photo IDs were required to get in the building in the morning for regular classes. Or at least so they claimed. I don't know anyone who was ever sent home for forgetting their ID, but they did get yelled at.

This doesn't actually challenge your point but, at least where I went to high school, the kids with the resources -- social and financial -- to get someone to take the SATs for them would have zero problem getting a fake ID on top of that.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on October 11, 2013


Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers, you can absolutely hire someone to take the SATs for you and laminate a fake high school ID for them to get into the exam with.

Anecdotally, I know pretty much zero people who had an SAT confederate take the test for them and plenty of people who have received "help" on these sorts of take-home assignments (or just the regular college admission essays that already exist). It at the very least is the difference between a method that has protections against cheating that can be defeated versus one where no protections whatsoever are in place against cheating.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:29 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this system just waiting to be gamed?

Sure, but Bard College isn't run by idiots and surely they've thought it through and are comfortable with this risk.
posted by gyc at 1:30 PM on October 11, 2013


Still pissed at Bard for closing their continuing studies program at the Longy School.
posted by Melismata at 1:31 PM on October 11, 2013


As somebody who's always been super great at standardized tests and terrible at writing (witness my FPPs), I would totally hate this. But since they still offer the "traditional" admission process, whatever.
posted by kmz at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are relatively serious essays (not "who is your greatest inspiration?" "if you were an onion, what would you smell like?" or whatever). I bet if you could write them you'd do okay at Bard. And if you paid someone you might get in but it would become apparent within a semester, unless you kept paying the same person to write everything for you. If nothing else this is a big enough sample to do stylometric analysis on.

Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers, you can absolutely hire someone to take the SATs for you and laminate a fake high school ID for them to get into the exam with.
They get stricter and stricter every year. I wouldn't be surprised if government ID was required for SATs; it certainly is for every other test.

While I think there are huge structural biases in the college admissions system, especially against Asian-Americans, I'm pretty sure the motive for admitting on "fit" is sincere. Or, if not exactly sincere, not specifically designed to create racial quotas. Like, anyone of any race who the college thinks "fits" will get in just fine; the problem is that colleges tend to have ideas about "fit" that more upper-middle class white people fulfill. (The biggest one I've heard mentioned is that sporting ability is usually valued more than an equivalent level of musical ability.)
posted by vogon_poet at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2013


Household income is something like 96% predictive of variation in SAT scores.

So on one hand, it seems like anything at all should be better than using SAT scores as a major factor in admission decisions. But then I have to ask, is the SAT uniquely biased toward rich kids? Or is household income 96% predictive of most other hypothetical measures of a 17-year-old's academic readiness for higher education, and just measuring something different won't give students a fairer shot?

I don't know. It sounds like an experiment worth trying.
posted by Jeanne at 1:37 PM on October 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


...plenty of people who have received "help" on these sorts of take-home assignments (or just the regular college admission essays that already exist).

Well, compared to four 2,500-word research papers graded on a college level, a college admissions essay is a cakewalk to be pounded out in an afternoon (god knows mine were.) Getting "help" on an assignment of that scope is considerably more of an effort than just your average high school paper, I'd think. Anyone of reasonable writing ability might be able to "help" you with your book report-caliber assignment on the History of Rhode Island for 10th grade Social Studies or whatever, but it sounds like these papers are a different animal.
posted by griphus at 1:37 PM on October 11, 2013


it's not clear to me why they think grades don't measure academic achievement.

Obviously grades do measure some amount of academic achievement, but the whole point of the SAT is that its scores are standardized. In theory, a 1750 in Manhattan equals a 1750 in Provo equals a 1750 in Kalamazoo (obviously, this is not actually the case, but that's the idea). With high school grades, though, how do you compare one student's 3.71 at a mediocre rural public school vs. another's 3.96 at a well-funded suburban school with lots of APs vs. a third's 3.45 at an extremely low-performing urban school?

Even high schools that are roughly in the same academic tier often don't grade similarly. I remember finding out long after I graduated that the only GPA bonus my school gave for honors and AP classes was .01, basically just enough to break ties in the event of multiple valedictorians. Meanwhile, people at the other high school in our county were getting full point bumps for taking virtually the same classes. That's not even getting into 8 point scales vs. 10 point scales because I honestly don't understand 8 point scales.
posted by Copronymus at 1:38 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think this sort of thing would fly over at Magic-User College.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


You should see the sort of crap they pull at Fighting Man State.

Go Fighting Man Fighting Men!
posted by griphus at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is basically the system that St. John's College uses. It's not a system for the faint of heart, and pretty effectively weeds out people that would be a poor fit for the college. If you're not ready to write that many essays, you're not ready for that kind of college. Johnnies are a particular sort, and from what I know, so are people that attend Bard. More power to Bard! It will be interesting to see if their outcome is analogous.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:48 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


What I'm saying is - this isn't exactly ground breaking territory, and there's another college that's been doing it for a long time with pretty stellar results.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:51 PM on October 11, 2013


That's not even getting into 8 point scales vs. 10 point scales because I honestly don't understand 8 point scales.

My high school used eight point scales, but didn't award different points for pluses and minuses, so my 92.3 in English was worth 3 points and so was my 84.6 in Algebra II, which in retrospect doesn't make a huge amount of sense. Getting to college and realizing that they could take account of that sort of thing was crazy.

I had a similar moment when I get to law school, where everything was weighted by the number of credit hours, rather than my college which did everything with a "one class is one credit, doesn't matter if it's a Chinese class with a total of ten hours of instruction a week or not."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:52 PM on October 11, 2013


I think the mere concept that someone could/would look at standardized test bullshit on one hand, and essay writing on the other, and suggest that the latter might be too easy to "game" says more about the state of American higher education than any of the linked content possibly can.
posted by trackofalljades at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


To ask such a question, one must suppose that there can exist a system, which restricts access to a desirable resource, but which will not at some point be gamed.

I think this is an interesting topic statement, and look forward to the rest of your essay. However, I think you should clearly define your thesis before proceeding.
posted by nubs at 2:01 PM on October 11, 2013


Bard's that weird non-traditional college that starts sending you stuff at around 15 years old offering an alternative 11th and 12th grade "early college" program.

From which my son will be graduating in the spring, thank-you very much...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I applied to St. John's College (although I decided to go to a more traditional college), and there was absolutely no benefit to paying someone to write the essays for you - if you couldn't write the essays, you wouldn't be a good fit for the school.

I don't know much about Bard, but this is from the Wikipedia page:
In the three weeks preceding their first semester, first-year students attend the Language and Thinking (L&T) program, an intensive, writing-centered introduction to the liberal arts. The interdisciplinary program, established in 1981, aims to "cultivate habits of thoughtful reading and discussion, clear articulation, accurate self-critique, and productive collaboration." The program covers philosophy, history, science, poetry, fiction, and religion. In 2011, the core readings included works by Hannah Arendt, Franz Kafka, Frans de Waal, Stephen Jay Gould, Clifford Geertz, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Sophocles.
Yeah, it looks like they want to attract a very particular kind of student. I don't think they're too worried about someone thinking, "Gosh, I'd LOVE to spend three weeks in intense study of modern liberal arts... better pay John to write my admissions essays!"
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is Bard putting a cynical spin on what has always been true -- that it is designed for smart kids with incomplete (because only in 9th or 10th grade) or weak (because of bad SATs or grades) application files. Now they can dispose with the academic files that never made them look good in the first place.
posted by MattD at 2:06 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unless they're requiring government ID at the testing centers, you can absolutely hire someone to take the SATs for you and laminate a fake high school ID for them to get into the exam with.

I had to have a government issued ID to take the ACT, and that was, um, many years ago.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:18 PM on October 11, 2013


I loved Bard. I got into Bard. I wanted to go to Bard. I was totally into the whole non-traditional situation. But Bard was insanely expensive, even in 1994 and their financial aid package . . . wasn't great. On a campus tour, one of the students told us that Bard would pretty much let anyone in so long as they'd pay cash up front. I remember sobbing, disconsolately, when I realized I couldn't go there and having my best friend at the time (who went to Brown) pat me on the back and say something like, "Bard's a school for arty *garbled* fuck-ups. It's not for you." And I was like, "But I am an arty fuck-up. I am, like, the definition of an arty fuck-up. Bard is totally for me." And my friend said , "I said arty, rich fuck-up, dude. Sorry."
posted by thivaia at 2:29 PM on October 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Jeane >

Household income is something like 96% predictive of variation in SAT scores.

When I read this, I thought it must be exaggerated; do you mean that if you ran a bivariate regression of SAT scores and household income, you could get an R^2 of .96, I wondered? That's incredibly high.

I just did some googling, and by Jove, that is right:

There’s a very strong positive correlation between income and test scores. (For the math geeks out there, the R2 for each test average/income range chart is about 0.95.)

That's outrageous! The test is practically testing income, not intelligence.

I didn't evaluate any data transformations that might have been involved in producing that R^2, but it seems to be corroborated by other findings. Crazy.
posted by clockzero at 2:43 PM on October 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand this. Do they think that it is a fair, reasonable alternative to the admissions process that could be used everywhere and done by all kids ready to be at college, or do they think that very few kids actually can/want to do this, and so they won't even have to choose between any? Bard's director of admissions suggests that " “You could probably do it in a weekend,...Let’s say a week, without disrupting your personal life too much.” Which sounds a lot like 'we're not really asking much of you at all, anyone can do this!'
But saying 'we just made our admissions policy 'admit anyone who gives a shit' doesn't sound terribly appealing, so why did she say that? It feels like a very thin edge to walk - 'our new process is hard enough that it will keep up our admissions standards, but easy enough that any damn kid could do this without any kind of privileged background!'. Uhuh.
posted by jacalata at 2:46 PM on October 11, 2013


But it's all good because you might become Steely Dan when you grow up.

Wait, this is your positive outcome? Don't you have to fight the other Steely Dan, then, for the title? Possibly armed only with Steely Dans?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:46 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's incredibly high. I just did some googling, and by Jove, that is right

I just learned this as well from a friend who's at the cutting edge of alternative education. Everything he's seen (and most of what I've seen) is going towards project/context based learning.

The emperor of standardized learning is fully buck at this point.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 2:48 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, the poor faculty. The poor, poor faculty.
posted by deliquescent at 2:52 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, pretty much everyone I told about the essays for St John's thought I was insane. I thought they were really great and fun and thought-provoking, even though I didn't end up going. I "gamed" the SAT system by going to fancy schools and being raised by people statistically-liked to produce high scoring offspring. Those essays were at least more honest than a bubble test, and I suspect it's to weed out students who are applying for the sake of applying--playing the numbers game themselves-- and dropping Bard's yield ratio.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:53 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, my assertion about what the test is really testing could be wrong because the model referred to in the linked article did not include an independent variable representing test-takers' intelligence; so the test scores, as evaluations of intelligence, could be very valid in a way that would be clear if the model was specified with an intelligence variable. But I would be even more surprised if the intelligence of a child determined their parents' income, so how could the SAT be even remotely defensible now that we have these findings? That's an honest question.
posted by clockzero at 2:55 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


But saying 'we just made our admissions policy 'admit anyone who gives a shit' doesn't sound terribly appealing

I don't see anything wrong with this admission policy and don't really understand your objection to it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


GenjiandProust: " Don't you have to fight the other Steely Dan, then, for the title? Possibly armed only with Steely Dans?"

Yes. You have to test your mettle to become Steely Dan.
posted by boo_radley at 3:07 PM on October 11, 2013


I suspect it's to weed out students who are applying for the sake of applying--playing the numbers game themselves-- and dropping Bard's yield ratio.


I was thinking along the same lines. I'm curious how their overall application count and acceptance rate (35%) will change under the new system. I'm guessing apps will go down, and acceptance will go up, sounds like a good thing to me. That is, unless some computer science professor uses it as a vehicle for increasing their Klout score by demonstrating that a computer program can get accepted to Bard college.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 3:08 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry to nitpick on the "95%" thing, but the analysis linked to above about income and SAT scores (i.e., this one) is wrong, or at least hugely misleading. What they've done is divide people into income bands, taken the average SAT score within band, and then correlated "income band" with "average SAT score for that band". That does give an extremely high correlation: income band does in fact explain 95% of the variance in average SAT score for an income band. However, that is emphatically not the same thing as saying that "income explains 95% of the variance in actual SAT scores of individuals", not unless every single person within every income band has exactly the same SAT score. I'm pretty sure that within every single income band there is a massive amount of variability: if so, the linked analysis is "hiding" (averaging out) a huge amount of the variation among individual SAT scores. In other words, it's almost certain that income only explains a modest amount of the variability in individual SAT scores. That said, the fact that there's any correlation at all is still, of course, a bad thing. But there's no way the 95% figure is even close to the true correlation between income and SAT score. (Again, sorry for derail... I'm a sucker for stats pedantry)
posted by mixing at 3:09 PM on October 11, 2013 [31 favorites]


That's outrageous! The test is practically testing income, not intelligence.

I didn't evaluate any data transformations that might have been involved in producing that R^2, but it seems to be corroborated by other findings. Crazy.


It's outrageous, and it is not correct. Those charts are showing averages. Because averages have much less variance than underlying data, most of the actual variation in performance is being washed out. There are so many data points per bin in those charts that high R^2 is simply telling us "yes, there is (mostly) linear relationship".

To see why this is "cheating", consider a linear regression with 100 people, 50 with middle income and 50 high income. Suppose that the average SAT score for these two groups are 1000 and 1050, respectively. Suppose that the standard deviation in each group is 100. The R^2 will be about 0.05. Now, take the averages of the groups, so you only have two points. Bam! Your R^2 is magically 1.0!

I've exaggerated the effect by only using two points, which must by definition fall on a line, but you get the point. Almost all the variation was eliminated by averaging.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:09 PM on October 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think this is good, not as good as

Bard College Storms, Razes ETS
Noxious Cloud Lingers Over Charred Remains

but definitely positive.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:09 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry to nitpick on the "95%" thing, but the analysis linked to above about income and SAT scores (i.e., this one) is wrong, or at least hugely misleading. What they've done is divide people into income bands, taken the average SAT score within band, and then correlated "income band" with "average SAT score for that band". That does give an extremely high correlation: income band does in fact explain 95% of the variance in average SAT score for an income band. However, that is emphatically not the same thing as saying that "income explains 95% of the variance in actual SAT scores of individuals", not unless every single person within every income band has exactly the same SAT score. I'm pretty sure that within every single income band there is a massive amount of variability: if so, the linked analysis is "hiding" (averaging out) a huge amount of the variation among individual SAT scores. In other words, it's almost certain that income only explains a modest amount of the variability in individual SAT scores. That said, the fact that there's any correlation at all is still, of course, a bad thing. But there's no way the 95% figure is even close to the true correlation between income and SAT score. (Again, sorry for derail... I'm a sucker for stats pedantry)

Oh, duh, you're right, and that's an important distinction. They also don't report which kind of average they took, so we're not able to make any inferences about how that process biased the data other than to suspect that it artificially increased the R squared.

Now I feel like a rube.
posted by clockzero at 3:31 PM on October 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with this admission policy and don't really understand your objection to it.

I am assuming here that they have some kind of pragmatic limitation on the number of students that they can fit at Bard, and that the group 'students who give a shit' is larger than the group 'students we can fit in at Bard'. If these two assumptions don't hold, then nope, there's nothing wrong with it.

(Of course, they might be relying on there being low overlap between 'students who care' and 'students who want to go to Bard' or 'students who can afford to go to Bard'?)
posted by jacalata at 3:35 PM on October 11, 2013


griphus: "You should see the sort of crap they pull at Fighting Man State.

Go Fighting Man Fighting Men!
"

I heard if you break one person's jaw in four or more places, it's instant admission.

Talk about gaming it. I heard about a guy who hired a guy with a shattered jaw to stand against him...
posted by Samizdata at 3:41 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


ZenMasterThis: "Bard's that weird non-traditional college that starts sending you stuff at around 15 years old offering an alternative 11th and 12th grade "early college" program.

From which my son will be graduating in the spring, thank-you very much...
"

Grats!
posted by Samizdata at 3:42 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am assuming here that they have some kind of pragmatic limitation on the number of students that they can fit at Bard, and that the group 'students who give a shit' is larger than the group 'students we can fit in at Bard'. If these two assumptions don't hold, then nope, there's nothing wrong with it.

I took a gander at the essay questions in the link, and I think the group 'students who give a shit' enough to get a B+ on those papers is going to be pretty small. I was a pretty excellent bullshitter in my day, but I would find this to be quite an interesting essay to attempt to pass:
In the Analects, Confucius identifies the cardinal virtue of ren (variously translated as goodness, humanity, benevolence) with many different attitudes and behaviors. Yet Confucius also says, “There is one thread that runs through my doctrines.“ Commentators differ about what that one thread is. What, in your opinion, could that one thread be? How does that one thread tie together the wide range of moral values that Confucius celebrates in the Analects? Support your answer by interpreting specific passages from the text.
posted by muddgirl at 3:43 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: "GenjiandProust: " Don't you have to fight the other Steely Dan, then, for the title? Possibly armed only with Steely Dans?"

Yes. You have to test your mettle to become Steely Dan.
"

Just thinking of the interestingly shaped bruises...
posted by Samizdata at 3:45 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, yes. I think they look quite difficult. Hence the rest of my comment wondering why the director of admissions appeared to be saying 'it's super easy!' which would give the impression 'anyone can do it' and that their admissions criteria has suddenly become 'anyone who gives a shit'.
posted by jacalata at 3:47 PM on October 11, 2013


The students of Bard College are numerous in amount. One thing they learn is essays, or as the Indians call it, "a waste of time". Another famous school was "Harvard". In conclusion, Bard College is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:50 PM on October 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


She doesn't say the essays are easy - she just says they won't take that much time to write, which is probably true, if you've completed all the necessary reading.

And if you get too many students who apply, just offer them no financial aid.
posted by muddgirl at 3:52 PM on October 11, 2013


Yao Wen, 17, a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, had a different assessment: “Four research papers consume a lot of time. I think three months,” the time between the posting of the questions and the deadline, “is not enough."
Yao Wen is in for a shock when he gets to school and learns he's got to write a 2500 word essay on a different subject every week.
posted by muddgirl at 3:55 PM on October 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wanted to go to Bard College, but trying to get all those levels in Fighter and Thief first was a pain in the ass.
posted by The otter lady at 4:05 PM on October 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


Nitpick: the plural of Steely Dan is Steelies Dan
posted by infinitewindow at 4:05 PM on October 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know. I don't think there are many college courses where they'd expect you to absorb all of the Analects well enough to identify a common thread running between them. Seems like the kind of thing where if you don't already kind of know what to write, you're shit out of luck.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2013


Yao Wen is in for a shock when he gets to school and learns he's got to write a 2500 word essay on a different subject every week.

Not entirely sure if you are familiar with Stuyvesant, but it really depends on the college. The coursework at Stuy -- at least my impressions of it from my friends who went there; I didn't get in -- was tougher than a number my college classes. Said friends who went there were probably better prepared for college than anyone except the most self-driven kids.
posted by griphus at 4:09 PM on October 11, 2013


Students can now submit four 2500 word essays and be admitted if their work is judged to be of B+ or better quality by faculty.

Have you ever read freshman essays? This is likely to whittle the numbers that are actually admitted.

Sure you got the top 1% SAT and 6.3GPA, but can you communicate using the written word, mofo?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:13 PM on October 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


The common thread in the Analects is the proper relationship between people and both parties acting in accordance to mutual respect within those relationships. Give me some source material and decent commentaries and I could've written 2700 words on that in between Baldurs Gate 2 binges.
posted by The Whelk at 4:24 PM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


So they dropped the 15+ CHA requirement then? I'm such a nerd.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:48 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, remember when we did the soaring cost of tuition the other day?

How long does it take one employee to read and categorize four 2500 word essays? I just did a quick test and I can read about 8-10 words per second, though I was going as much for speed as for comprehension. That means at least 17 minutes to read these essays, and probably more like 25-30.

From that, I'd guess that a single employee of the university who is solely tasked with reading and evaluating essays could probably process 2000 per year. (2000 hours in a theoretical work-year, but that's not including breaks, vacation, holidays, mandatory training seminars, sick days, BSing around the water cooler...)

How many people apply to Bard's every year? How many full-time employees will be needed to process these applications?
posted by Hatashran at 4:58 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I bet you can recognize and reject a C-or-lower paper in about a minute.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:17 PM on October 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


How many people apply to Bard's every year? How many full-time employees will be needed to process these applications?

Per the OP, the essays are being graded by faculty. Per Wikipedia, the current enrollment is just over 2,000 and they admit 28 percent, so figure no more than 3,000 applicants per year. There are 257 academic staff, so if every applicant chooses to go this route, you're looking at 48 essays per faculty member. A college instructor can grade that many essays in a weekend without losing out on going to a drum circle or whatever hippie crap they do at Bard instead of football.
posted by Etrigan at 5:19 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


What? No football at Bard??
posted by Mister_A at 5:25 PM on October 11, 2013


Well, they're not FBS, so there might as well not be.
posted by Etrigan at 5:32 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bard's that weird non-traditional college that starts sending you stuff at around 15 years old offering an alternative 11th and 12th grade "early college" program.

Simon's Rock, for me, was life-changingly awesome, and plenty rigorous. Many of the best parts of who I am today are the product of my having gone there. Gotta say, I resent the living hell out of those scare quotes.

Also, please do note: I'm not the only Simon's Rock alum on Metafilter.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:34 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think all college admissions should be based upon (or "modeled" after) the
beauty pageant format, with a swimsuit competition component, etc.
"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'" and all that.

Or, "AS PLATO ONCE SAID, ". . . how much DOES, exactly, a Grecian urn ...?
posted by Chitownfats at 5:42 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Simon's Rock is legit - I didn't go there but know at least two people who did from grad school and they were both super impressive academically (in totally different fields).
posted by en forme de poire at 5:45 PM on October 11, 2013


"What I'm saying is - this isn't exactly ground breaking territory, and there's another college that's been doing it for a long time with pretty stellar results."

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. There's a number of us here who went to St. John's —koeselitz and I are probably those with the highest profile.

SJC requires your high school transcripts, of course, and they don't claim to not take grades into consideration. But at least twenty-five years ago, when I applied, and I think still today, they don't require SAT/ACT scores. They will accept them and, if sent, they don't claim to not consider them. But the essays are absolutely the most important factor.

Bard is not as unusual as St. John's, but it is still quite unusual. But SJC is unique, with only one major, almost no electives, all seminar, with a curriculum that includes everything from two semesters of music, three of classic greek, to Leibniz and Cantor and Lobachevsky, Einstein and Maxwell, Plato and Kant and Wittgenstein, Shakespeare and Austen and Tolstoy ... the point is that johnnies are very, very highly self-selecting. Almost no one actually wants the education that's provided there. If you think you do, and you go for a campus visit (very strongly officially recommended, includes a couple of days of sitting in on classes) and still want to go, then you've pretty much met their requirements already. They're "selective" only by default, in terms of the various metrics that outside organizations use to categorize schools; but, in fact, they accept the majority of the students who apply.

In Bard's case, they're far more traditional but Bard is definitely in that group of small liberal arts colleges that are enough unusual in similar respects to be commonly considered together by prospective students. In my case, SJC's mere existence sort of blew my mind and immediately was my main focus. But I also was thinking about Reed and Bard.

So these small, unusual liberal arts schools don't have to depend upon the usual metrics to find the students they want ... those students find them.

And I'll add that, in my opinion, in the last twenty years as SJC's national reputation and profile has for some reason grown from what it used to be, it's actually been counter-productive because you now see more students who apply and attend because a) their parents want them to; and/or b) they're achievement oriented but for some reason are interested in SJC. I mean, look: at SJC, they don't use grades. They keep grades, simply because the large portion of students who go on to grad school (usually SJC is in the top five schools in the US in this metric) need them for grad school admission. But internally, they don't matter. You have to go out of your way to request to see them at the registrar's office, and at least when I was there, most students don't until they graduate and even then, many don't.

Students who are focused on numerical metrics to track their educational progress are not comfortable at SJC. Seriously, there's always those high-achievers who have always understood how the system works, who want to know exactly what they're required to do in order to get an "A" and are very focused on pleasing the teacher. I found it deeply amusing to watch those students flounder during freshman year.

Anyway, in general, the kind of students who are interested in these good, unusual, small liberal arts schools are mostly bright and motivated students anyway; for them, standardized test scores are not very meaningful.

Also, I don't know how Bard works, but I do know how SJC works with regard to the admissions process. Every semester there's a group of faculty who form an admissions committee. Those faculty members read every admission essay submitted. They also look at whatever else is submitted, including transcripts and standardized test scores, if the latter have been submitted. They make a recommendation. The director of admissions makes the final decision; almost always following the recommendation of the faculty committee. Sometimes the director will do some other things — I've discussed how unhappy I was as a teen and how close I came to dropping out of high school. My grades were terrible. I did submit standardized test scores just because those were very high. But the director of admissions made an appointment with me to interview me on the phone. On that basis, he decided to ask me to take a couple of college classes elsewhere and get at least "B's" to prove my diligence, which I did.

The point is that for these schools, this is a very personal process. Just for making admission decisions for freshmen, faculty reads these essays and makes decisions. They don't require interviews, but they do strongly encourage the campus visit and during that time the admissions folk also form impressions of the candidates.

In this sort of context, what a student writes on these essays is not, in fact, the entirety of how a decision is made. It's just the most visible and official part. But it's important, and sufficient, because it says a lot about the student. And, for the purposes of a school like Bard or SJC, they will be able to tell when a student has had an adult, like a parent, write the essays.

For example, my essays were written in a very personal, very honest style and not even remotely according to the standard high school essay format. When I spoke with the director, he mentioned that my essays were "very impressive". I can tell you right now that your standard "high-quality" admissions essay, in the sense that people generally think of as "high-quality", is very identifiable and probably counter-productive for this sort of school.

So what this all amounts to is this: this makes perfect sense for this sort of school. "Gaming" the essays will almost certainly backfire for the sort of student who attempts it. SAT scores are not very helpful for the school.

But this isn't a model for your average university. Of course it isn't. It's also not a model for the most exclusive, very highly-desirable schools, because those applicants are primarily motivated to simply get in and get a degree with the name of that school on it. Those students are mostly only self-selecting for ambition.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


BrotherCaine: "So they dropped the 15+ CHA requirement then? I'm such a nerd."

How about you tell me something I DON'T know...

I keed! I keed!
posted by Samizdata at 5:52 PM on October 11, 2013


Chitownfats: "I think all college admissions should be based upon (or "modeled" after) the
beauty pageant format, with a swimsuit competition component, etc.
"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'" and all that.

Or, "AS PLATO ONCE SAID, ". . . how much DOES, exactly, a Grecian urn ...?
"

20 bucks. Same as in town.
posted by Samizdata at 6:03 PM on October 11, 2013


yeah, Ivan, it's a good point - the Venn diagram of gunners and SJC or Bard applicants is basically an "8."
posted by en forme de poire at 6:04 PM on October 11, 2013


Hee. For my St. Johns essays I had little to lose because my dad had already said he would not pay for me to go to a hippie college, so I said as much in my essays. I also included pictures of dragons saying, "Accept me to piss off Dad" and a rambling story about My Best Poop Ever.

Totally got in, still couldn't go, so revenged myself by going to the most expensive school I got in to.

TAKE THATS
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:08 PM on October 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


my Dad did not let me apply to Brown because they had "a stupid name."

true fact.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth Carleton University in Canada has had a similar policy for a long time, and it's been quite successful; if you believe that your high-school grades aren't an accurate reflection of your potential, they'll let you write a basic entrance exam and take a three-fifths courseload for a term, and if you can keep your grades up, they'll admit you full time.

It's actually very democratic, in that it lets people recover from having a few bad years at an already-difficult time of their lives, or for mature students, to come back when they're ready. They don't make it any easier to leave with a degree, just easier to take a shot at trying. Once students have made it through the half-courseload year the dropout rate isn't any different than it is for first-try full timers, and anecdotally I know one person who finished high school with a 54% average and spent a few years working as a dishwasher and line cook before going back, and who's just now wrapping up a PhD.
posted by mhoye at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bard has a really good photography program, by the way. Or they did.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:36 PM on October 11, 2013


When I applied to Simon's Rock (in spring of '94!), the essay was on the role of the gadfly in the Apology, a copy of which they helpfully included in the application packet. Typing it up on my mom's old Royal manual was one of the most delightful essay experiences of my life.

Like others upthread, SRC changed me for the better. The workload was much harder than at Grinnell, and I loved the mix of over-achievers and flameouts that their idiosyncratic admissions policy encouraged. Greatness can come from anywhere! Dedication matters! Give chances to shine! Make the children of the rich pay full price, if you can.

Defecting from physics to anthropology may have been bad for my (immediate) career, but great for my soul. That would not have happened for me at MIT. Thanks SRC!
posted by gregglind at 7:00 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might be somewhat viable if it was actually a timed and proctored essay (although I still think grades should be taken into account). Applicants nowadays have an incredible amount of resources at their fingertips. There are college prep agencies that literally write application essays for international students overseas. Of course, they claim to simply 'translate the main ideas', but you don't charge $3000 to simply proofread.


Now the real question is, when are law schools admissions going to stop accepting solely based on LSAT and GPA (giving a 4.0 in Sports Medicine the same weight as a 4.0 in Theoretical Mathematics) in order to boost their USNWR rankings?
posted by echoplasm at 7:10 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Q: Now the real question is, when are law schools admissions going to stop accepting solely based on LSAT and GPA (giving a 4.0 in Sports Medicine the same weight as a 4.0 in Theoretical Mathematics) in order to boost their USNWR rankings?

A: When USNWR goes out of business? Though I imagine that the T14 actually do take majors into account when selecting a class because 1. they can 2. high grades really aren't that rare. That said, high LSAT scores will always be an equally rare commodity, and selected for accordingly.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:16 PM on October 11, 2013


Looking through Bard's website, one of the computer science department's senior projects is "Analyzing and Visualizing Malware Collected in Honeypots."

Which I've seen, sort of.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:13 PM on October 11, 2013


Urgh. I am deeply cynical about this.

On the one hand, historically, putting more weight on essays and less weight on grades and test scores has been a way to keep colleges full of rich white kids.

On the other hand, going to a liberal arts school in this day and age is such a financial disaster that I say, let anyone who wants to do it, do it.

Many state schools allow almost anyone in the door, and then require good grades for the first semester or year to get in to any of the decent programs inside the school. I always thought that was a pretty egalitarian policy. The best predictor of your performance in college classes is ... your performance in previous college classes.
posted by miyabo at 9:18 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


At my future Plato's Academy-style private non-degree-granting school in the post-apocalyptic Ozarks, the only criterion for admission is a persuasive essay arguing why one should not be immediately dissolved into amino acids and fed to starving third-world children.
posted by deathpanels at 9:52 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember kids who had to go out and get an ID card specifically in order to take them. (If you didn't have a drivers license or a passport, you were stuck, since our school didn't issue acceptable photo IDs.) Now I think most schools issue students acceptable ID, for this purpose among others.

I remember having to being a magic combination of my birth certificate, Social Security card, and last year's school yearbook. for lack of a single piece of better ID. Biggest stress of the day was finding a ride to the testing center in the county seat.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:21 PM on October 11, 2013


At my future Plato's Academy-style private non-degree-granting school in the post-apocalyptic Ozarks, the only criterion for admission is a persuasive essay arguing why one should not be immediately dissolved into amino acids and fed to starving third-world children.

Holy shit you guys Peter Singer is on MeFi
posted by en forme de poire at 10:31 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


miyabo I would say more specifically "going into student loan debt in order to go to a liberal arts school in this day and age is such a financial disaster..."

In theory, and this is pie-in-the-sky stuff I'm taking here, every thinking person should have a liberal arts education. Of course, that doesn't have to take place in a university; if you get rid of all the repetitive and pointless bullshit that gets foisted on kids in high school, there'd be plenty of room to discuss the classics, perform Bach cantatas and probably have time left over to create monumental sculptures.
posted by La Cieca at 10:48 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


How do I figure wheter the essay was written by somebody else? Should one write the essay on the spot during a classic exam sitting?
posted by elpapacito at 3:17 AM on October 12, 2013


miyabo: Many state schools allow almost anyone in the door, and then require good grades for the first semester or year to get in to any of the decent programs inside the school. I always thought that was a pretty egalitarian policy. The best predictor of your performance in college classes is ... your performance in previous college classes.

When I graduated high school in Kansas, the state universities were required to a accept every graduate of a high school in Kansas. (I believe they have since been allowed to put in place a very low bar: something like a 1.7 GPA.)


(disclaimer: I didn't go to either state school. I have not fact checked these memories of what my high school guidance counselors told me 15 years ago.)

The result of this policy, as I understood it at the time, was that freshman classes at K-State and KU were too large for the universities' capacity, impossible to sustain for four or more years without serious attrition. And, in fact, the drop out rate before sophomore year was something like 50% (with more people dropping off after that, but at a much lower rate.) This was not a statistic the universities were ashamed of or something they attempted to improve. It was a very necessary evil.

It was achieved, apparently, with "weed out" classes. Freshman composition was one, we were told. Everyone had to take it, and many people either failed or dropped the class, by design. The strategy was supposedly just a huge workload, daunting to people who weren't very determined to succeed, hard to keep up with even if you were. Unlike anything in high school. Between that and the math requirements also placed on all freshman, which deterred math-phobics just by existing, they achieved the necessary attrition.

We were instructed by our guidance counselors to try to fulfill these requirements before we got to college. A lot of people took freshman comp at the local community college, because the credit transferred. I can't remember if the AP English tests would get you out of composition, but I was told that the AP calculus or stats tests could fulfill your math requirement. And that the high school AP classes were much smaller and friendlier.

I'm not entirely sure that "weed out" classes are really a much fairer entrance test, given this experience. People with jobs or stressful home lives or less challenging high school backgrounds were less able to keep up with the work load of freshman comp and less likely to know the material pre-requisite for the math classes. Those of us from privileged backgrounds were able to skip the weed-out classes entirely via AP tests and community college credits, and importantly, were warned by our high school counselors. Even those from my school who did take the weed out classes knew that it was just an initial hurdle, that if they were struggling it was because everyone was struggling, that it would get easier. Whereas kids from other schools likely assumed that if they were struggling, it meant they weren't smart enough for college.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:05 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


> Yet Confucius also says, “There is one thread that runs through my doctrines.“ Commentators differ about
> what that one thread is.

I'd be happy to have a shot at that one too, but I certainly wouldn't try to knock it out in a weekend. If it's open-book then let's do a grain of research, at least to the point of having a clue what we're talking about. Learning the answer to an interesting question, or part of it, is where the fun and satisfaction is. Dessert first; then the dog work of trying to reduce it to a 2500 word extended tweet.
posted by jfuller at 5:13 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


1) Gaming a known system doesn't automatically equate to cheating at it, nor would I consider blatant cheating as a form of gaming the system. SAT prep courses boost grades largely by making the students more comfortable with taking it, getting to know the format and patterns of questions and when you should guess vs when guessing will cost you more points than it earns you - But come test-day, you still need to have the ability to figure out most of the right answers to get a good score.

2) That said, I still have to denounce the SAT as complete tripe. I did pretty damned well on it, and still bombed my first year of college. It may measure academic prerequisites, but it doesn't measure a student's readiness for college (personally, I would have done a hell of a lot better to have started out taking one or two classes a semester for a year or two while working full time, instead of jumping right in). The sooner we get rid of the SAT (and ETS in general) in favor of something like a "working interview" for admission, the better. Such a change can never happen, however, because modern colleges deal in quantity, not quality, of education. They want a single number they can use to rule out 90% of applicants without a second thought, and a relatively objective (and impersonal) scoring system they can use for the remainder to avoid accusations of discrimination.

2a) The problem with hard classes that separate the wheat from the chaff comes from several angles - First, the student has already committed to blowing $20-30k (and up!) just to learn that they won't cut it. Second, we have a pernicious belief in modern American culture that everyone needs a college degree, from our doctors to our plumbers to our baristas. Finally, most colleges, for the sake of keeping their graduation rates up, don't use their "killer" classes to weed out students entirely - They simply keep unprepared students out of STEM majors; so we end up with a glut of people graduating in "fallback" majors that leave them massively overqualified for flipping burgers, yet not actually qualified for anything else.

3) Continuing on that, while reading this article, I at first assumed that Bard specialized in "real" liberal arts degrees, the sort of "french lit major" that actually goes on to become an expert in their field, rather than the sort that primarily spent four years smoking weed on the quad and babbling incoherently about Camus and Descartes. Yet visiting their website, it turns out, they actually offer majors(? I can't actually tell from their website they offer any real "majors", but they offer some sort of vague concentrations) in Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science. How exactly does writing a few essays prove someone as academically prepared to tackle DiffEqs or chromodynamics? Granted, STEM would certainly benefit from drastically improved communication skills, but those necessarily come second to the core skills of the field.

/ tldr: Good idea, bad implementation.
posted by pla at 6:16 AM on October 12, 2013


I am seriously surprised at the amount of consternation over this. Bard has always had several alternate/non-traditional methods of gaining acceptance, and it makes for an environment where very talented people who have some areas of weakness can get in anyway. Some of my friends from there would probably not have been accepted under traditional college metrics.

This will work out just fine, because they know what they're doing and what they're looking for, and have a lot of experience with it. A few idiots might cheat their way in and blow $30-60k before washing out, but for every one of those there will be three or four who get a well-deserved chance in an excellent educational institution they might not have made it into otherwise.

(in fact, this is an excellent reversal of their recent policies that were designed to move it up the statistical rankings more than actually benefit the students)
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:34 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Applicants who earn a B+ or better on their writing will be accepted

THIS is the best thing about this story. It's the conversation we never get to have about higher ed. It's implicit in disgruntled complaints about affirmative action.

LOTS of people can succeed in college, in just the ways colleges want people to succeed. And not all of those people have the TOP SCORE.

So here we have B+ and better getting into school. Lots of those B+s and better will not have the same high school grade profiles, list of AP credits, community service opportunities, or SAT scores as others, and yet they will be granted admission -- potentially putting all of those kids who've been groomed to demonstrate what they believe to be their innate superiority over other kids into a snit.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:27 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


pla: questions in the C block, specifically the ones below:
Category C, question 1
Consider the following two-player game, Don't be Greedier, that involves players taking alternate turns removing pebbles from one pile of pebbles, subject to the following rules:
(1) The player to remove the last pebble or pebbles from the pile wins the game.
(2) On the very first move of the game, the player to play is not allowed to remove all the pebbles and win immediately (that would be greedy).
(3) After the first move, the number of pebbles removed can't be more than the number of pebbles removed in the turn immediately prior (that would be greedier). That is, the sequence of numbers of pebbles removed on each turn is a monotonically nonincreasing sequence.
Starting with a pile of 12 pebbles, which player would win a game of Don't be Greedier, assuming optimal play?

Category C, question 3
Why is factoring numbers into primes a difficult problem?

Category C, question 6
Read the article "Building Watson: An Overview of the DeepQA Project." Drawing from the materials presented in the article, explain why computers can beat human beings at certain games but not others.

Category C, question 7
In his 1963 lecture on gravity, Richard Feynman mentions that the "weird" behavior of Uranus led to the discovery of a new planet. More precisely, the fact that Uranus's movement did not fit what was predicted by the then-current understanding of planetary motion could be explained by the existence of a not-yet-observed planet—and the planet was then observed right where predicted. Suppose that observatories had looked at the indicated position and had not actually found the predicted planet. What then? What new questions would this outcome pose for the scientific community? How could they test other explanations for the unexpected motion of Uranus?


Students have to answer at least one question from the C block. (The other questions are all Bio, but you were specifically asking about Math, Physics and Computer Science.) C1 essentially requires a standard proof and C3 requires explaining NP and P completeness, hell so does C6. C7 invites you to play Einstein. I'd say these are pretty standard STEM topics. I initially was incredibly cynical about this, but looking at these questions, sure you could hire someone to write these essays, but the cost of hiring someone to write these essays and write them well could probably be most easily spent and with a higher degree of success in giving the school enough money to let you in.

I do not know what the Bard math program is like, but if it is anything like Reed's, then it is focused on proofs, not solving equations. The C1 question could easily be the first question on an early in the semester take home test either on game theory or a general overview course. While I never had to answer a question like C3, even now, ten years later, I can give you a rough overview of it even though I only took two CS classes.

I'm half working on C1 in my mind. I think I have an answer and would have loved to have this as an essay question (even as part of a regular application) when I went to college. I won't post it here, as I feel that would invalidate the question, but if anyone else is trying to work on this (and is not currently applying or knows someone applying to college), please drop me a memail, I would love to compare notes.
posted by Hactar at 9:06 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hactar, I will readily admit those all make good questions, and even "mathy" questions, but they don't actually test a student's ability at math. And make no mistake, I don't consider rote number-crunching ability even remotely interesting, but it does count as unfortunately necessary for success in STEM.

And not to give too much away, #1 necessarily wins, which you can prove semi-exhaustively with a single nontrivial example (and the assumption that you have rational players), thus not even making it an "elegant" proof.
posted by pla at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2013


Hey! I went to Bard (class of '01) and this is really interesting to me.
I don't think (correct me if I'm wrong) that Bard's limiting prospective students to only this method of applying. This is one way of applying to the school, but I think the traditional application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc will still be accepted if you don't want to go the essay route. I think it'll be interesting to see what percentage of applicants write the essay.
I might well have tried getting in through the essay had it been an option when I applied. As it was, I applied to Bard in 1996 as a low C student in High School, but I nailed the SATs. At the time, Bard didn't require SATs on their application, but you could send them if you wanted.
I was waitlisted by Bard and rejected by most other schools. At the second interview at Bard I was told, informally, that my grades were below their usual threshold, but my SATs had perked up their ears.
I was a smart kid at a school that was wrong for him. Bard looks for people like that, obviously. In my case, the SAT served to highlight that, which is kind of horrible to me, because I hate the idea that any good could come out of the SAT.
Regardless, at the end of the interview, the interviewer suggested that I was a fairly high risk, but that she thought I'd make a good fit for the school, and she was correct. I really loved Bard, grew a lot as a person there, and did very well in my classes. (Of course, in terms of determining the value of my education, I should note that I'm a 35 year old dog walker.)
Like a lot of people who go to small liberal arts schools, I tend to not like capital I Institutions very much, so there are some things that Bard's done that I think are neat, and others I hate. But to me, the takeaway from my experience specifically and this new method of applying, is that Bard as an Institution really does take seriously the idea that matching the student to the school is important. I think having an essay like this as an option might well help that mission. If it further helps their stated goal of undercutting ETS, all the better.
tl;dr: I went to Bard and am a 35 year old dog walker.
posted by qnarf at 11:31 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


OnceUponATime, I went to KU in the late 90s. I remember during second semester of my freshman year, a few times a week when I was walking back from a morning class to the dorm, I would see a car in the loading area. There would be a shell shocked, sad looking, soon-to-be-former student loading their things with their stern looking parents into a van or station wagon. It always made me sad for the rest of the day.
posted by reenum at 12:13 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


although it's not clear to me why they think grades don't measure academic achievement.

Really?
posted by notreally at 2:15 PM on October 12, 2013



As someone who started as a teacher and retired as Superintendent of Schools, I have to admit, in my experience a student who is willing and ABLE to game the system is a student who will be able to excel at the college level. Why would be another topic.
posted by notreally at 2:25 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There should only be three criteria:

1) Do you have the grades?

2) Can you do the work?

3) Do you have the money?
posted by Renoroc at 8:25 PM on October 13, 2013


The science/math questionsvary greatly in difficulty. Category C, question 1 is absurdly easy compared to question 3; I would hardly know where to begin answering that one. Does "because we don't know how to do it easily" count?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:40 PM on October 13, 2013


which you can prove semi-exhaustively with a single nontrivial example (and the assumption that you have rational players), thus not even making it an "elegant" proof

The question does say assuming "optimal" play, although you do have to assume that taking zero pebbles is either against the rules or not optimal for the player that cannot win to force an unwinnable game. You can solve it by cases in a somewhat elegant way by proving that a few types of game states are definitely unwinnable and showing that if the doomed player follows those rules, the only other options still result in a loss.

C1 essentially requires a standard proof and C3 requires explaining NP and P completeness, hell so does C6.

If they really want an explanation of the P/NP concept they should have worded the question differently. You can ignore the whole concept of NP-completeness if you are talking about a single NP-complete problem in isolation. For C6 I think it's even less related to time complexity because heuristics can and do play a huge part in getting around having to compute every possible move, and even more importantly, whether or not it's possible to solve a game has way more to do with the number of possible moves in the standard version of the game than how the solve-ability changes as the problem space grows larger (i.e. connect four is solved for the standard size but not solved for huge 20x20 boards that no one plays with).
posted by burnmp3s at 9:49 AM on October 14, 2013


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