The Questions They Don’t Ask on the SAT


Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  (Psalm 139:23)

Having homeschooled our children for twenty years, sometimes I forget how different the educational experience is for our kids from that of children attending public and private schools. For example, our school calendar is in sync with our family schedule, not mandated by some bureaucrat who doesn’t know our routines. We can also respond swiftly and switch curriculums to match the learning style of each individual student in our family. One of the most notable differences is how we assess our kids’ progress, comprehension, and understanding of each subject.

Because Rachael and I are firm believers in the Charlotte Mason teaching philosophy, our children never really took a “test” during their elementary years. We read books together, engaged in lively discussions, and processed the information using notebooking journals. We never “taught to the test,” thereby allowing our kids to pursue actual learning, especially in those areas they found interesting. While most young children fill in circles with a #2 pencil year after year, mine have never had to play the testing game.

I grew up going to public school. I was a straight-A student and earned a perfect ACT score in math (not quite as good for the other half of the test). I enjoyed the praise and accolades of teachers and administrators, which had the unfortunate side effect of puffing up my pride in my test-taking abilities. So you might think I would be a fan of standardized examinations.

After a successful college career, however, I discovered that paying jobs require a completely different kind of result. And now that I am a full-fledged homeschool advocate, I don’t see much value in test-taking skills. Yes, there is something to be said about being able to overcome obstacles, push through difficult circumstances without giving up, manage anxiety, and navigate the world of required testing. But I don’t believe anyone would agree that this is the purpose of any test. I mean, when was the last time any real-life responsibility required you to fill in a circle properly? Okay, you might need this skill to vote, but you can probably figure it out on your own rather quickly.

Standardized tests may have a place in statistics. By this I mean, researchers can take a large pool of diverse and randomly selected students and determine how they are doing relative to each other on a given day in certain subjects. But one student’s SAT score doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about that individual’s aptitude in those two subjects. What if they were sick or tired or skipped breakfast that particular day? What if they went blank, froze, or experienced severe test anxiety? What if life threw them an unexpected curveball the day before?

In North Carolina, the state requires homeschool students to take a standardized test each year. When I give this test to my kids, I remind them that we are only fulfilling a state requirement. I encourage them to do their best, but I make it clear that their score is no indication of their knowledge and is not a reflection of their ability, skills, or worth. I will often remind them that these tests won’t ask any questions about many subjects they have studied. For instance, there will be no Bible questions, so the test will not afford them the opportunity to shine in this area.

A standardized SAT or ACT test is literally only one gauge of a person’s abilities in reading and math. This brings me to my main point. Have you ever considered all the abilities and mastery that a standardized test doesn’t measure? In other words, what are the questions they never ask? Here are just a few of the subjects not covered.


There is so much to appreciate when a person is skilled in music. I love it when a person can step up to a piano and immediately fill the room with smiles. Playing an instrument is therapeutic, relaxing, and entertaining. And the best way to measure one’s ability is to have that person play an instrument, not fill in a circle.

Singing and Dancing

No actor auditioning for a role in a movie or play has ever had to submit standardized test scores with their headshot. Something tells me auditions are more focused on a person’s actual singing and dancing abilities. And show business is big business that dramatically influences the culture.

Art and Design

No artist needs to be starving these days. We live in a world that pays handsomely for quality illustrations, photographs, videos, and design work. This growing community of skilled artisans probably didn’t fare too well on the SAT because of its emphasis on math and reading.

The Classics

When was the last time there were questions about Plato, Homer, or Shakespeare on the SAT test? Even if their names come up, I’m sure the questions don’t delve deeply into the subject matter. You can be sure the test makers are more likely to include material from what they consider classics by Darwin, Dewey, and Sanger.

The Bible

Speaking of classics, there are no serious questions on a standardized test that measures a student’s Bible literacy. Christian parents need to make studying the Word of God a top priority for their children. Of course, as parents, we don’t just want our kids to know about God. We desire for our kids to know and love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Speech and Debate

If you want to see young minds in high gear, with kids thinking on their feet, then you should get involved in speech and debate. Homeschooling families participate in many such groups across the country. It’s almost impossible to spend a year in speech and debate and not emerge sharper mentally and more informed on important issues.

 Philosophy and Logic

There are attempts at testing logic in standardized tests, using analogies and the like, but real life isn’t a multiple-choice test. Real life and collaborating within a team requires staying in a conversation, working through complexities, going deep into the details, analyzing and reanalyzing assumptions and conclusions, and engaging in serious critical thinking.

Time Management

One good predictor of students’ success in college (and life) is their ability to manage time. If your son or daughter can plan their work and work their plan, then they will stand a good chance of learning the material, completing big projects, meeting deadlines, and doing well in school without Mom, Dad, or a teacher there to keep them accountable. Again, an SAT score gives no indication of a student’s ability in this important life skill.

Emotional Intelligence

Finally, there is a wealth of research showing that a person’s EQ—emotional quotient, or emotional intelligence—is a better indicator of potential for success than their IQ. A person’s EQ boils down to being self-aware and self-controlled, as well as being aware of others. People with high EQ scores handle themselves well and are able to lead others by promoting a healthy environment that breeds success for everyone involved.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

Four of my seven children have graduated from our home school. My oldest is already a college graduate, two are currently students, and my fourth plans to enroll this fall. Naturally, they had to take the SAT just like every other college prospect. All my kids have excelled in college, but you might question their potential if the only measure you’re tracking is their SAT scores.

I have a philosopher, two artists, and a missionary among my seven children. They excel in their fields of interest, and a standardized test score provides absolutely no indication of their mastery or expertise. They manage their time well, enjoy healthy relations with teachers and family members, are leaders among their peers, humbly serve in their community, and walk with the Lord. My kids are proof that a less-than-impressive test score doesn’t indicate much about a student’s real ability or potential.

I believe your kids are also much more than an SAT score. Make sure they don’t feel labeled (good or bad) by their scores on such tests. The people who write these exams and score them don’t know your kids. They don’t know if your child speaks multiple languages, is a gifted athlete in several sports, or is obedient, respectful, and responsible. They don’t know if your son or daughter is charismatic, thoughtful, humble, or humorous. But you do. You know and love your kids more than anyone in this world. You know when they do their best. You know the subjects they find interesting. You know their potential, and you know just how wonderful, amazing, smart, and unique they really are.

In the words of Diane Ravitch, “Sometimes the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine in standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.”

So what do you think is the best way to measure a student’s ability? And specifically, what is your assessment of standardized tests?

Walking by faith and enjoying the homeschooling adventure of a lifetime!

Davis Signature

© 2016 Davis Carman


Davis is the president of Apologia Educational Ministries, the #1 publisher of Creation-based science and Bible curriculum. He is also the author of three illustrated children’s books designed to instill a biblical worldview. Good Morning, God is based on Deuteronomy 6, and A Light for My Path is an ABC book based on Psalm 119. His latest, In the Beginning, is based on the Creation account in Genesis. He believes that if there was ever a time to homeschool, it is now!


8 Responses to “The Questions They Don’t Ask on the SAT”

  1. Nancy McCaghren says:

    Well said and should be published over and over. Thanks for taking time to write it down!

  2. Kathy says:

    Thanks, Davis, for this important and timely reminder. Our oldest is graduating next month, with the other two right behind in 9th and 10th. I will admit that I easily became wrapped up in testing and scores for scholarships, but there was a price to pay with stress, pressure and strain in relationship. Why do I so quickly forget that God know what is best for each of our children more than I do, and the many reasons and benefits of homeschooling besides test scores?! I appreciate the gentle truths and reality from other believers!

  3. Davis says:

    Thank you Nancy and Kathy for your kind comments.

  4. Excellent. You need to submit this as a guest author to several HS bloggers and Websites. This is a topic that is always at the top of the list, and you blew it out of the water! Mark and I always appreciate the wisdom you share. And we are thankful for God putting you all in our lives. blessings from Germany.

  5. Joy says:

    An excellent reminder. Thank you!

  6. Davis says:

    Angela – Thanks for the idea to submit the article to to other sites. Your encouraging words are much appreciated. And we can’t wait to visit you all in Germany again.

  7. Davis says:

    Joy – Thanks for the kind comment. I do hope the message helps remind parents that their kids are so much more than a standardized test score.

  8. Kelly Meyer says:

    Such a good and encouraging reminder! I’m passing your article along to all my Homeschooling mother-comrades! Thank you, Davis, for putting into writing what I aspire to continue to value and emphasize within my own home with my two nonstandard teens! I concur- submit your article wide and far! It needs to be shared and bless masses of dedicated, hard-working, deep-loving homeschool families. (HSLDA, Old School House, pioneerwoman, Ann Voskamp, CHOIS)…to name a few & get you started 😉 Thanks again, from YWAM Idaho!

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