February 6, 2004

The Perfect Score

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The SAT, the much-maligned standardized test that over one million high school students take each year, has reached new pop-culture heights with the release of the movie The Perfect Score. The film, a Paramount and MTV Films production released last Friday, chronicles the quest of six high school seniors who try to steal the exam. Each student believes that the only thing standing in the way of them winning admission to their desired school is their sub-par SAT score.

The ringleader of the group, Kyle (Chris Evans) is trying to gain admission to Cornell’s architecture college. He scores below 1100 and believes he must get a 1430 on the SAT if he has any hope of being admitted and realizing his dream of being an architect. And he, like the other five, believes the only way he can improve his score is by breaking into Educational Testing Services (ETS) in Princeton, N.J. and stealing the answers.

“I’ve often questioned the ethics of standardized testing, and I feel that the importance placed on SAT scores has too much of an effect on a kid’s future,” explained the film’s director, Brian Robbins. “Today’s higher educational environment is very challenging because it’s much harder to get into top colleges. In turn, it becomes more difficult to get into second-tier colleges as well. All this adds pressure on top of the everyday challenges kids face just growing up, and we wanted to tap into that.”

So how does Cornell fit into this equation? At one point in the film, Kyle asserts that the architecture college at Cornell is the best of its kind in the world. Dreaming of becoming an architect since he was in elementary school, Kyle looks at acceptance to Cornell as his ultimate goal.

Whether or not a few hundred points on the SAT is what really holds Kyle back is uncertain. “[The SAT] is one of many factors we consider when making admission decisions. [It is] probably worth mentioning that submitting a ‘perfect score’ does not guarantee admission to an institution that practices selective admission,” said Jason Locke, director of the Undergraduate Admissions Office(UAO) in an email.

Elizabeth Cutter, director of admissions at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, refused to comment on admissions practices.

Despite several television advertisements in which the main character dreams of stealing the SAT in order to get into Cornell, there is little concern within the University about the film. Though a number of people in the Cornell News Services had heard of The Perfect Score, all attempts to find someone who had seen it were unsuccessful.

Some Cornell students, however, have seen the film. “The film was just a below-average teen movie,” said Zed Francis ’07. “Everything was just so far-fetched. I don’t think many people’s first instinct would be, ‘I failed this test, so let’s steal [it].'”

Francis, who saw the film at Ithaca’s Pyramid Mall on the day of its release, remembers “there was much hooting and hollering” every time one of the characters mentioned Cornell. “It makes Cornell seem like an icon, like a great place to go,” Francis said, “but [there was] a lot of overexaggeration about how important the SAT is.”

There was also some concern at ETS, which was not contacted about the production of the film, that its release may cause some “copycat” attempts at theft. The night of the film’s release, ETS president Kurt Landgraf met with consultants to discuss security concerns that may arise as a result of the film. To date, however, there have been no legitimate threats to the test’s security.

Archived article by Billy McAleer