Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Perfect Score (2004)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There’s something about being made by MTV that sets a movie apart. It’s sort of like having a G rating. I lower my expectations coming into it. I was still disappointed with this movie.

The basic premise is that a group of six students decide to break into the headquarters of the company that administers the SAT. (For those that don’t know, the SAT is a test used to judge students applying to college.) Kyle and Matty are two friends that both want a better score on the SAT. Kyle wants to go to Cornell to study architecture, but needs at least a 1430. Matty simply wants to get into the same school as his girlfriend. While debating the unfairness of one test deciding their fates, they hatch a plan to steal the answers to the SAT. (If only it were that simple.)

Along the way, they pick up four accomplices. Francesca is their first choice. She happens to be the daughter of one of the executives, thus giving Kyle and Matty easy access to the building. Then, there’s Anna, who’s brought into the fold by Matty. She has a 4.0 average, but is only second in her class. She also froze up her first time on the SAT. Having the answers would really help. Anna brings Desmond into the group. Desmond is a high-school basketball star who needs a 900 on the SAT to get into the college of his choice. Roy rounds out the group. He’s usually too stoned to go to class and has a 0.0 GPA. He finds out about the plan when Kyle and Matty are arguing about Matty telling Anna. Why Roy is interested in a 1600 is beyond me, but he does provide a few laughs.

Kyle and Matty make an initial attempt, but fail when they try to copy the test, but shred it by accident. Knowing that they won’t get another chance like that, the team of six has to try again, but use a style more in line with Mission Impossible. When they get in, they realize that the answers are on a computer. Instead of being able to simply copy a test, they have to write the answers down.

Here’s where I should stop so as not to ruin anything. You have to figure that everything works out for the best, but there’s really no point in revealing the end. It’s time for me to rip into the movie now.

The first major flaw that I noted was that whoever wrote this movie never actually took the SAT. Until recently, the SAT was divided into two parts: Math and Verbal. If you show up and manage to actually put your correct name on the test, you’re guaranteed a 200 on each section. The maximum you can get is 800. This means that you will get somewhere between 400 and 1600. The score is based on standard deviation, which I will explain shortly. What’s important now is that Desmond needs a 900 to get into Saint John’s. He can “ace” the math part of the test, as he puts it, which I assume means that he can get an 800. The 800 that he can get on the math section and the 200 that he’s guaranteed on the verbal section means that he has nothing to worry about. Granted, he probably doesn’t want to look like an idiot, but he has 100 points leeway. He can even miss a few questions on the math and get an 800.

The next flaw is that the six students try to make it seem like a victimless crime. Here’s where that standard deviation comes in. Each student is given a raw score. Those that took statistics may recall the bell curve and standard deviations. In a nutshell, if you plot the raw scores and the number of test-takers getting each different score, you should end up with a graph that looks like a bell. The most common score will be the one in the center. This is the median score. According to the theory, there should be as many students with a raw score above the median as there are below it. The median score becomes a 500 on the SAT. A standard deviation is determined by percentages. If I recall, something like 65% should score within one standard deviation, 96% within 2 and 99.7% within three. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) One standard deviation translates to 100 on the score, so that someone that is one standard deviation above median gets a 600. (This is why you can miss a few questions and still get an 800. In theory, there should be 1.5% of the test takers getting more questions correct than is necessary for an 800.) The reason that the crime isn’t victimless is that six students getting a perfect score will affect the scores of the other people taking the test, even if it is by ten points. Quite literally, given a fixed number of students, there are only so many 800s to go around on either section of the SAT.

Anyone who has taken the SAT within the past 20 years should have caught at least one of the two flaws I just mentioned. The next flaw has to do with GPA. Anna has a 4.0, but is second in her class, which means that there is one person with a higher GPA. Most schools will allow for a co-valedictorian if two students have the same GPA. Don’t tell me that it might not include honors or Advanced Placement classes. Again, for the benefit of those that don’t know, Advanced Placement, or AP, and honors classes allow for a higher weighted GPA. Honors classes add 1 point to your grade if you pass the class and AP adds 2 points, so that an A counts for 5 in an honors class and 6 in an AP class. This is how some students wind up with a GPA like 5.243. Why is Anna number 2? If they were using the weighted GPA, this means that there is only one student that made use of the extra points. (In other words, either Anna hasn’t taken any honors or AP classes or that she hasn’t gotten straight A’s.)

There’s only one final grievance that I have: It was way too easy for six high-school students to pull off. Yes, we’re dealing with six very smart students and they did have an inside angle to work, but to think that two of them could have infiltrated the building and be stopped by mistaking a shredder for a photocopier is a bit ridiculous. Also, if I’m not mistaken, the SAT actually makes use of several tests during the same testing session. I think that there are actually four or five different tests. This is to prevent someone from looking over and copying from a neighbor. It’s been over a decade since I took the SAT, so I could be wrong on this.

The whole plot was contrived. I had no real empathy for any of the students. The story, while interesting, wasn’t really enough to be memorable. We’re talking two stars at most. 

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