Reality tv teaches more than street smarts

By Melanie Goldberg

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The morning of the March 12 SAT, I woke up after nine hours of sleep, ate a healthy, balanced breakfast and double-checked my bag for pencils, snacks, a calculator and, of course, spare batteries.But nothing could’ve prepared me for the essay question.

The prompt asked whether reality television is beneficial or detrimental to society.

Luckily for me, my after school schedule includes a daily reality marathon of “Jersey Shore,” “Toddlers and Tiaras,” “Tool Academy” and “DC Cupcakes” (don’t even get me started on “America’s Next Top Model” weekend marathons). But for those with a more sophisticated taste than my own, this question would have been difficult to answer.

In the past, prompts like “Can knowledge be a burden or a benefit?” or “Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame or power?” have lent themselves to historical and literary comparison. But you’d be hard pressed to tie famous literary works into a question about reality television, especially under a 20-minute time constraint.

Several parents have complained that the question was unfair to students who don’t watch a lot of television, and that it was irrelevant to the information taught in schools. Even if you were ingenious enough to structure your essay around literature (I wasted a good five minutes trying to think of a literary example, and the best I could come up with was an interview with Snooki from last week’s Rolling Stone — real highbrow stuff), you’d still need to tie it to real examples from the media. Without some knowledge of reality programming, it would’ve been difficult to get a decent score.

True, I can now argue to my parents that watching “Real Housewives of New Jersey” is “test prep.” But my parents paid a significant amount of money for me to learn how to incorporate the Crimean War or Rousseau into my essay — if I’d known that the best study technique for the SAT was MTV, I would’ve skipped test prep and stayed home on the couch. But why should my knowledge of “Date My Mom” affect my chances of getting into college?

I understand that the College Board may have been trying to incorporate a question that would appeal to teens and would test writing ability over prior knowledge. But, the question was too out of place with the rest of the SAT, and compromised students who aren’t as familiar with reality television.

Like many of my classmates, I’ll sign up to retake the test in May and hope for a more traditional question. And next time my mom catches me watching “Flavor of Love” reruns, I’ll just tell her that I’m studying.

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