Standardized Testing for Presidential Candidates

Standardized testing has become a fact of life for students. To get accepted to Wes, we all took SATs and SAT IIs or ACTs and often AP tests or IB tests, not to mention an alphabet soup of state specific tests. Seniors preparing for further academic work are studying for or taking their GREs or LSATs or MCATs. These are not all that admissions offices look at – they are weighed alongside recommendations, grades, interviews, personal statements and more – but they provide one gauge of an applicant’s ability and readiness for school. After following the last few months of presidential primary season and attempting to prepare myself for the upcoming year of elections (yes, really, there’s another 11 months of this), I am increasingly of the opinion that we need to create another test, which I have provisionally named the PC GIT, or Presidential Candidate’s General Information Test.

This campaign season has been full of gaffes (who can forget Rick Perry’s forgetfulness?) but what I have found incredible are the statements of fact that so many candidates horribly mangle. From Bachmann’s reference to “the rise of the Soviet Union” to Perry’s error about the voting age to Cain’s comment that China is trying to develop nuclear weapons, this campaign has been filled with misstatements of fact that could be merely slips of the tongue or could demonstrate a much more serious lack of basic knowledge on the parts of the candidates. What better way to end the confusion than to ask candidates questions and get full answers in writing? (N. B. Clearly, nothing will actually end debates over candidates’ meanings, particularly on the internet. However, having more information about candidates is good, regardless of what some people do with it.)

This test wouldn’t need to be long; as presidential candidates, the test-takers would have better things to do than take a day-long assessment like the SAT. It could be only 20 or 30 questions, split between foreign and domestic policy. Responding to the anti-intellectualism in this country, the idea wouldn’t be to trick candidates with ‘gotcha questions’ like “name a newspaper you read” or to ask questions that only the liberal, elitist, college-educated, out-of-touch intelligentsia should know, but rather to ask questions that anyone running for president should be expected to be able to answer easily. Perhaps they could be generated by a bipartisan board of high school government and history teachers.

All the candidates seeking the office of President of the United States from either party would sit down in a room for a few hours and write out their answers to the test (if they can come together for seemingly endless debates, then one test day shouldn’t be a problem), which would then be assessed by the same people who wrote the questions. The questions, the correct answers and each candidate’s scores could then be published by major news outlets, which any candidate who advocates more teaching of civics in this country should support. For those who would question the graders’ biases or might be interested in candidates’ thought processes, the actual answer booklets could also be made available for public perusal.

Obviously, this would not be the sole determinant for presidential candidacy. Like standardized tests in college and graduate school applications, it would be one factor out of many that affect how people vote – perhaps not a factor at all, as I would hope that all candidates could answer all the questions. There are also some practical difficulties with a test like this. For a test of this magnitude, keeping the questions confidential beforehand would be incredibly difficult and I would expect that, as for the SAT and other tests, systems would come to be designed for predicting what sorts of things candidates should study. To that, I can only say that I would be so much happier if I knew that all of the candidates had studied anything at all before entering the race.

Here are some sample PC GIT questions (generated by me and not a bipartisan committee):

  • “Name the G8 countries and their leaders.” (bonus: how about the G20?)
  • “What are the current income tax brackets in the US and at what percent is each taxed?”
  • “Which nations currently possess nuclear weapons and which have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?”
  • “What is the current unemployment rate in the US? The current poverty rate?”
  •  “Define capitalism, communism and socialism.” (This may be overly subjective, but after hearing Michele Bachmann refer to “frugal socialists” and Newt Gingrich call the CBO a “reactionary socialist institution,” I’m beginning to worry that Republican candidates see ‘socialist’ as an all-purpose insult, like ‘idiot’ or ‘poopy-head.’)
  • “Name the Constitutional powers of the President.”

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Filed under 2012 Election, General Info, U.S. Politics

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