A New Kind of College Entrance Exam

Diana Biffl / Colleges of Distinction »

Last Update: December 8, 2023

You’re sitting in an unfamiliar classroom surrounded by nervous students just like you—pencils click incessantly, eyes shift to the clock every few minutes, erasers scrape against scantrons. You stare down at your test. You’re being asked to comprehend a seemingly meaningless passage from a story you’ve never heard before. You think, “There’s got to be another way to prove I’m ready for college.”

It’s pretty well established that the SAT and ACT are the big dogs in the world of college entrance exams; however, if you are looking for an alternative, a new exam has been gaining popularity in recent years: the Classic Learning Test (CLT), developed by Classic Learning Initiatives. Since it’s development in 2015, the CLT is now accepted by over 250 colleges! I spoke to Jeremy Tate, the founder of CLT and its parent company, Classic Learning Initiatives, to get a close-up look at this new player in the standardized testing game.

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Earlier in his career, Tate ran an SAT prep company; in this position, he saw a theme of shallowness in the SAT and ACT tests. In an effort to be value neutral, the SAT and ACT have omitted passages from authors such as Shakespeare and Dante—authors that most people esteem as some of the greatest authors of all time. This troubled Tate, not only because these tests serve as a gateway to college—but also because college entrance exams hold a lot of power in the development of high school curricula. He explained, “…talking to the headmasters…[they] want their students reading these great works, but parents tell them, ‘I want my daughter to be reading what they’re going to see on the SAT and ACT.’” Hoping to close this gap, Tate and his colleagues created a test that was richer, and more user-friendly for students.

Classic Learning Initiatives’ mission is to return to Plato and Aristotle’s view of education as not only a means to an end, but as a vehicle to search for what classical educators refer to as the good, the true, and the beautiful. Tate said, “We try to introduce students to some of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western thought. We want kids to leave our test and say, ‘Wow that was really interesting,’ or, ‘Wow I’ve never thought about that before.’”

Not only does the CLT include passages from Flannery O’Connor, St. Catherine of Siena, C.S. Lewis, and other classical authors—but it presents the test in a millennial-friendly way. Tate explains, “For a kid who’s growing up in the digital age, it’s kind of perplexing to them when they take a multiple choice test, and then it gets shipped away for four weeks…I think it’s kind of overdue for some kind of disrupter to break into the SAT/ACT duopoly and offer a third alternative.” That is exactly what Classic Learning Initiatives has set out to do. Students can take the test online from home, and the test is remotely-proctored by CLT staff. Students receive their results within 9 business days.

In addition, Tate hopes to return to the model of an aptitude test, instead of a test that solely assesses common core mastery, as the SAT and ACT do. The CLT is an option for students who may have gone to a Classical Christian school, and therefore were not educated with the common core; however, the test is not built to give an unfair advantage to such students. The CLT includes a quantitative reasoning, a verbal reasoning, and a grammar section.

Similar to Colleges of Distinction, Classic Learning Initiatives aims to be, as Tate states, “a champion of liberal arts colleges,” highlighting western civilization and philosophy—topics that students dive into in a liberal arts setting. Some of the very first schools to adopt the CLT are our very own Colleges of Distinction, including University of Dallas, The King’s College, and Grove City College.

In closing, I’ll share with you what stood out to me the most as I spoke to Jeremy Tate: his vision of education as a transformative experience. He explained, “…education is not just about acquiring skills and being useful as a cog in this big economic machine—it’s about transformation; it’s about learning to wonder and awe at the world that you live in, and to think, and to question. So that’s the primary difference—is that for us, education is not primarily about what you can get out of it. It’s primarily about how it changes you as a person.”

What is education all about for you? Whether the common core is more your style or the classical tradition aligns with your views—it’s always a good idea to explore your options. To get a feel for the different college entrance exams, take practice tests! A practice CLT test is available here. Feel free to comment on our article and let us know your thoughts!