Late last week, a member of a Counselors Facebook group posted an article about the Classic Learning Test, an assessment similar in some ways to the ACT and SAT. I knew nothing about the test, so I decided to do a little research.

Based on the Great Books for critical reading as well as mathematics through Trigonometry, the Classic Learning Test is currently accepted by 87 colleges and universities. Three are public: Chicago State University, Christopher Newport University and the Lyceum Scholars Program, an academic deep dive into the economics, morals and politics of capitalism. The others are a mix of independent and religiously affiliated colleges. Three, Hillsdale College (MI), Hiram College (OH) and St. John’s College (MD and NM) are Colleges That Change Lives. Many, but not all, of the religiously affiliated schools are Christian. Interestingly, 15 of these schools are listed as test optional (mostly tied to a minimum GPA requirement) by I have visited only two of these schools, Taylor University (IN) and Grove City College (PA), though I plan to visit Christopher Newport shortly.

I took a look at the read-only practice test. The readings are based on classical works within the Great Books. It appeared to be more demanding than anything I have seen on a sample ACT or SAT. Then again, the Great Books were not a part of my college education, let alone high school. Students who have learned these works within their education, and are patient readers, will likely fare better than I would. The math section of this test appeared doable, provided that Trigonometry was already part of your math education.

There are other significant differences between the Classic Learning Test and the two standardized tests most commonly used in college admissions.

  • The Classic Learning Test is given at test centers, but is entirely online. One has to hope that there are no Internet problems at the test site.
  • The Classic Learning Test should take two hours to finish versus nearly three hours for the ACT and SAT.
  • You know your score as soon as you formally save your answers.
  • The scoring for the Classic Learning Test has a high number of 120, equal to the number of questions on the test. To date the highest score any test taker has attained is a 118.
  • High scorers might be eligible (when their academic record is also considered) for scholarships from 21 of the 87 schools. I know Grove City’s College’s pricing, having profiled the school before. There the scholarship is quite generous.

This test is well suited for students who have the education to take it. To quote the test provider: Instead of gaming the test, we encourage growing in a greater familiarity with good literature and great ideas. You can buy a used ten-volume Gateway to the Great Books for just over $110 on Amazon. The full set of 54 volumes sells for $300 on up.

The test was meant to be aligned with the educational interests of the participating schools. They, like any college, want to recruit the best prepared students who are most likely to succeed in their curriculum. At the same time, its provider also wants to encourage more students to pursue an introduction that curriculum in their high school education.  I will be curious if certain schools such as Columbia, which has a Great Books based core curriculum, or NYU which offers a program of similar rigor within its Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, will eventually accept the test. NYU might, since the university advertises itself to be test flexible rather than test mandatory for the ACT or SAT.

I have no issue with the test or the motives behind it. But it is interesting that, at a time when a liberal arts education is being viewed so cynically by conservative opinion leaders, there are strong conservatives advocates for an education in some of the most rigorous liberal arts.

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