A few years ago, I started asking lecture halls filled with students to raise their hands if they had run out of time on the SAT. In each room, nearly every hand went up. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.
For decades, educators have seen speed as a marker of aptitude or mastery, forcing students to scramble to finish tests. But a race against the clock doesn’t measure knowledge or intelligence. It assesses the much narrower skill of how well students reason under stress. As a result, timed tests underestimate the capabilities of countless students.
New evidence shows that although smarter people are faster at solving easy problems, they’re actually slower to finish difficult ones. They’re well aware that haste makes waste, and they don’t want to sacrifice accuracy for speed. You wouldn’t want a surgeon who rushes through a craniectomy, or an accountant who dashes through your taxes. Even for the many jobs in which people are judged on speed, there’s no evidence that doing algebra under time pressure is useful preparation. Although it pays to be quick, it also pays to be determined, disciplined and dependable.