College prep test that raises the bar sees rapid growth during pandemic

Imagine a college admissions test that you take from home, is only two hours long, and helps you gain entrance into the university of your dreams.

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) has done just that…

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Imagine a college admissions test that you take from home, is only two hours long, and helps you gain entrance into the university of your dreams.

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) has done just that for many students – and it’s receiving more attention after SAT/ACT exams were shut down during the pandemic while CLT’s remote proctoring system remained fully functional.

“There is tremendous disruption right now in higher ed,” said Soren Schwab, vice president of partnerships.

“One thing that COVID-19 did, almost overnight, is it made college tests optional. …If all colleges are test optional, then CLT is accepted everywhere because it’s not required anywhere.”

CLT vs. other tests

At first glance, the CLT may look just like any other college entrance exam.

It uses a multiple-choice format and features questions in math and language arts. It includes trigonometry and an optional essay component.

The key differentiators, Schwab explains, lies in the exam’s content and format.

“The CLT now actually looks a lot more like the SAT in the 1970s and 80s where the SAT was still an aptitude test,” Schwab said, noting that the ‘A’ in SAT stands for aptitude.

“Aptitude is really more about the students’ reasoning abilities, the way they can think through a problem, the way they can solve something.”

In recent years, the SAT/ACT have shied away from emphasizing classic texts in their reading comprehension sections. 

“The SAT/ACT really has censored most of the Western intellectual thought tradition,” Schwab said. “There really are no great books on these tests anymore. It’s kind of boiled down to informational texts, nonfiction texts, contemporary newspaper clippings.”

The math section also differs from other tests in emphasizing students’ problem-solving abilities over rote memorization.

“We want them to see something that they haven’t seen before, and be able to figure it out,” Schwab said. “And that’s why we don’t allow calculators because they make kids so dependent on machines. …The SAT/ACT don’t really allow for that kind of demonstration of ability anymore because it’s aligned with Common Core.”

The second difference lies in the format, which uses an online platform that can return test results in only 10 days.

“It’s a much quicker turnaround, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s only two hours long,” Schwab said.

By shortening the length, Schwab said, the test aims to provide a more accurate assessment of student ability.

“I think for students, we sometimes underestimate testing fatigue,” Schwab said, noting that even adults can have trouble focusing for more than two consecutive hours.

“SAT/ACT are three hours plus, and if you have a student with accommodations that has extended time, sometimes students have to sit there for four to five hours. If they have double the time, it’s close to eight hours.”

In addition to the quick turnaround, CLT test-takers receive a one-page analytics report that shows them what questions they missed, as well as areas for improvement and areas where they performed well. 

They can also freely share their test scores with as many colleges as they want, Schwab said – in contrast to the SAT/ACT where they must decide beforehand which colleges can see them (before students even know how they scored).

“With CLT, you take the test, you get your results, and then you can share them for free with any and all colleges that you’re interested in,” Schwab said. “It’s a lot more user-friendly, and it really creates a more personal relationship with that college.”

‘We took the risk, and it worked out’

The CLT first explored the idea of remote proctoring to serve families who lived in isolated areas of the country, Schwab said.

Some of them had to drive 3-4 hours just to reach a testing site, then pay for a hotel room – all for taking an exam.

“Plus the testing fee, that’s hundreds of dollars,” Schwab said.

Once COVID-19 lockdowns occurred in March 2020, Schwab said the company held an emergency leadership meeting to figure out their strategy. They decided to divert all available resources (including their travel budget) into perfecting their remote proctoring model.

“We took the risk, and it worked out,” Schwab said. “I think there were times, I think in April/May, we had 800 percent growth.”

The process was quite disorienting, Schwab recalled, for a small company with fewer than 30 employees.

“We didn’t know what to do with that demand,” he said. “There were long hours. I know of one or two people who kind of slept in the office to get everything right.”

All that time and effort paid off. Schwab said he hears regularly from families who no longer need to travel such great lengths just for a college entrance exam.

“We can now provide that at home in a safe environment where the student is most comfortable,” he said. “I think this is not going to go anywhere. I think this is the way of the future.”

Next steps

Schwab said the company is considering the idea of new assessments, including Latin and civics.

“A lot of schools, a lot of families, are yearning for civics and the return of civics to the classroom or the homeschool,” he said. “There is really nothing out there.”

Right now the company offers assessments for grades 7-8 and higher. They are exploring ideas for assessing lower grade levels, down to grade 3. 

“In a way, a test is a lever,” Schwab said. “A test sets a standard. And [our country has] been lowering that standard, year after year after year.” 

The CLT’s mission is to help families return to higher standards that objectively demonstrate student abilities to colleges. It also recognizes that parents are their children’s primary educators, Schwab said.

“You talk to parents, and they want their kids accountable. They work them hard because they love them,” he said. “It’s not like they’re raising standards because they want to punish their kids. No, it’s because they understand their children’s God-given potential.”

All of this stems from what Schwab calls an educational renewal movement that is sweeping the nation.

“We expose students to truth, beauty, and goodness on an assessment that reinforces and validates what they’re learning in the classroom or at home,” he said.

“If you read a lot, if you’re a deep thinker, the CLT is going to be a great assessment for you.”