Imagine that you’ve gotten pretty good grades all through high school, you know what you’d like to do as a career, and you know what college you want to attend. Then you go take the SAT. You don’t do all that well on it; in fact your score is just about average. The college you had been planning on attending wants to see your score, so you send it to them. That test score is going to be considered alongside or possibly before all your high school grades, community service hours, and admissions essays.
Suddenly, that one test score could determine whether or not you get into the school of your dreams. This is the reality for many young adults just coming out of high school. It is a ridiculous amount of significance to put on one test, especially considering the scores that you make on a test can differ from day to day. Test scores are not completely accurate for many reasons, and that is why SAT scores should not be the deciding factor when it comes to college admissions.
What is the SAT?
The SAT is something any high school senior knows about well. During your sophomore or junior year, you’ve probably taken the PSAT (the preparatory version of the SAT) at least once, looking over all the study guides and practice tests you can get your hands on, and researching all the tips and tricks for playing the odds right when it comes to the multiple choice questions. All of this is to prepare for that 3 hour and 45 minute monster of a test most everyone takes right before they graduate.
The SAT covers the following main subjects: critical reading, mathematics, and writing. The test presents three types of questions: fill-in, multiple choice, and essay. What’s the point exactly? According to the College Board, “The SAT has helped millions of students connect with college success and today remains the most reliable, effective measure of a student's college readiness.” If you score well on the SAT, chances are colleges will come back to your application before they’ll take another look at the student who performed a bit lower. SAT scores are also looked at when determining whether a student should receive an academic scholarship.
The Case for Considering SAT Scores
As with all “high stakes” tests, there is considerable controversy around whether or not the SAT should be important when applying to schools. Most colleges in the United States and all Ivy League schools make it a requirement to take the SAT or a test like it. Basically, schools like to see it because it’s considered an un-biased way to compare one student to another, and a way to predict whether or not a student will succeed in college. As stated on the SAT Scores website, “Such test scores are valuable to universities as they provide an unbiased way of ranking a student’s performance compared to other applicants. Unlike your GPA, which may depend on the difficulty of your course load or the standards of your high school, SAT scores are directly comparable across students from different parts of the country.”
David Z. Hambrick, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, considers the SAT a good measure of general intelligence, especially since the average gains that come from SAT preparation courses are minimal. Hambrick’s answer to the SAT validity question was straight to the point. “This debate is ultimately about intelligence and its modifiability — and the question of whether it is fair to use people’s scores on what is essentially an intelligence test to make decisions that profoundly affect their lives. If that makes us all uncomfortable, that’s just too bad.”
Why SAT Scores Are Faulty
Realistically though, we all know what goes on when some people go to take a test. Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, you’ve developed a nervous tic, and your head is swimming with all the information you’ve tried cramming into it over the past 24 hours. When you sit down at that table and the timer starts, it’s safe to say that most of us are not exactly at our most intelligent. That is why the SAT is not a good judge of intelligence or preparedness for college. There are so many reasons why a test could go wrong. Maybe you’ve got a lot on your mind, you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re extremely stressed out, or you’re just not a good test taker.
John Katzman, president and founder of the Princeton Review (an SAT prep course company), supports this view. “The SAT is a scam. It has been around for 50 years. It has never measured anything. And it continues to measure nothing. Does it measure intelligence? No. Does it predict college grades? No. Does it tell you how much you learned in high school? No. Does it predict life happiness or life success in any measure? No.”
He goes on to explain that he has found that it comes down to test taking strategies, and whether or not you test well. “There's a certain idiom to the test. There's a certain way they ask questions. There's a certain way to create wrong answers. And if you're good at that idiom, then you're going to do well on testing in general. Some people can't take tests, because they don't speak that language.”
The kids who don’t speak the test-taking language can spend the majority of their high school years fretting so much over acing the SAT that they let their school grades slip. Instead of studying for Math or English, they pour over test-taking booklets trying to learn ways to score high even when they don’t know the answers.
Some kids get so distressed that they turn to cheating. Recently, Sam Eshaghoff, a college student with the amazing talent to consistently score high on the SAT, was arrested for taking the test for other people. People were willing to pay him thousands of dollars for, as Eshaghoff put it, “saving their lives.” In a 60 Minutes segment that aired this past January, one of the correspondents, Allison Stewart, asked what he meant by that. “I mean a kid who…no matter how much he studies is gonna totally bomb this test, by giving him an amazing score, I totally give him this like, a new lease on life. He's gonna go to a totally new college, he's gonna be bound for a totally new career and a totally new path in life.”
One Score Should Not Decide Your Future
Standardized tests like the SAT may have been created for a noble purpose, to make admissions to colleges more fair, equal, and objective, but they are not living up to what they were intended to be. Admissions boards often turn away low-scoring students full of potential while they admit high-scoring student who are completely uninitiated. More often than not, kids are being kept and discouraged from pursuing their college and career dreams because of one bad score on one test, and that should not be the case. All colleges should make tests like the SAT optional for admission, and look more at a student’s previous coursework, extracurricular activities, volunteer time, and other accomplishments when determining whether or not a student should be admitted into the university. Colleges should look at the SAT scores, and then throw them away because when it comes to the big picture, they mean next to nothing.