You may have never even thought twice about it, but the primary purpose of your federal income tax return is not to help the government make sure your have paid the correct amount of taxes for the year, but actually to evaluate your mental health. Truth be told, the income tax return is just one part of a battery of tests created by the little-known American Psychiatric Testing Agency in 1913 to gauge the average American’s reaction to high-stress conditions. To allay suspicion, of course, the APTA operates under the cover of an obscure little federal agency known as the Internal Revenue Service, and subcontracts the actual management of the test to an inconspicuous nonprofit foundation. If you look under the big 1040 on the cover of your tax packet, you’ll notice a small acorn symbol. That’s right, the income tax “test” is in fact administered by none other than Educational Testing Services, the people who bring you other popular, expensive tests like the SAT, GRE, and Achievement Tests.
While the uninformed observer might find the 1040 to be antiquated in design compared to these better-known tests, it is actually a state-of-the- art exam used as a testbed for new versions of the SAT. Innovative features include its single, integrated reading comprehension and math section (test takers must first read and understand the instructions before filling in any of the blanks). It also has featured write-in answers (as opposed to multiple choice) and has allowed students to use calculators since their invention, ideas only recently adopted in the SAT. On the drawing board for transfer to the academic tests is the audit, in which ETS agents will rifle through the schoolwork and personal affairs of people with suspiciously high scores to in order to detect and deter cheating.
The inquiring mind may want to know, isn’t this sort of test unfair, given the prevalence these days of paid tax preparers? If you investigate the matter, you will discover that companies like H&R Block, Jacoby & Meyers, et al, are all wholly-owned subsidiaries of testing-preparation companies like the Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Hyperlearning. The IRS does not fully endorse their existence, but it maintains that overall, the effect of these paid preparers on scores is negligible, and claims of saving their customers hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases are unsubstantiated.