You’re a junior or senior, and college applications are creeping up. There comes a formidable opponent staring you down. The dreaded SAT. It haunts you—not only because of the difficulty, but how much weight it holds; students believe that a bad SAT score equates to never getting into college.
But times are changing. With the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, colleges and universities have questioned the validity of the practice, tapering from requiring it to becoming test-optional or even test-blind. As fewer schools continue to consider them, the conclusion becomes clear. The SAT should be removed from the college admissions process, favoring a more holistic process that extends the student’s capacity past a number.
But how does the SAT relate to us in California? It’s optional, right?
In May 2021, the University of California (UC) schools instituted a test-blind policy, setting the tone for the rest of the nation. The UC schools also planned to have an individual test that would be administered in place of the SAT or ACT, but that decision was dropped in November 2021. For California students such as ourselves, applying to these schools would make the pressures of the SAT nonexistent.
And yet, the SAT still lives rent-free in our minds. For students applying to more selective, out-of-state colleges like the Ivies, the pressures of the SAT are magnified. Trying to find a difference between similar students, the SAT can be used to differentiate the two. That is the most likely reason California students would continue to take the SAT, even though most selective and out-of-state colleges are test-optional.
So, why do we have the SAT? According to the Princeton Review, “The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.”
Although there is truth to these statements, ultimately, the SAT is not the best solution when it comes to predicting and comparing.
According to Prepexpert, “overall there is a high correlation between SAT scores and college performance.” They argue that in preparation of the SAT, skills—such as a growth mindset and dedicated studying—are fostered, which when transferred to college classes result in grit and delayed gratification, often leading to success.
However, the article fails to recognize that these skills are built most successfully through trial and error in classes. Although they could be developed by studying for the SAT, if a student does not already exhibit these skills, it is unlikely that the stressful SAT study period would bridge the gap. As students learn and grow in their years of schooling, it is most likely that it will be exhibited in their final grade, which is a culmination of semester-long classes, with plenty of opportunity to increase their grades. Grades are a much more likely indicator of tenacity as they span a wide range of time, as compared to the SAT which grades performance based on a 3-hour test. A semester will tell more about your study habits than will 3 hours, therefore indicating that there are better ways to measure a student’s readiness for college.
In the realm of comparison, the SAT also falls short.
In trying to make sure their admits are up to par with their academic standards, colleges give all the power to a single test that does more harm than good. By placing intelligence on a test score, colleges disregard individual circumstances as well as demographics that might impact those scores.
Large factors that lead to a significant gap between test takers are wealth, education, environment and ethnicity.
Behind an SAT score, test prep and retaking serve as advantages to the wealthy—opportunities that are less accessible to other families. On average, SAT Prep costs thousands of dollars, money that is excessive and unavailable to some families on top of a test that costs $60 per take.
Although Collegeboard has taken measures to reduce fees including two fee waivers for low-income students and partnering with Khan Academy to provide free SAT Prep, they fail to see the point. Why should a heavily weighed test make a student pay such a large amount for it? On top of the SAT registration fee, there are additional fees that place a burden on students and their families. SAT Prep books and courses are expensive. Retaking past two tries (for low-income students) and optional score analysis adds up. Even traveling to far testing centers places a strain on students and their parents. Yes, the College Board is a private organization. Yes, they need payments to mitigate costs arising from creating the test and grading them. But, the College Board is in no way strapped for cash.
Maybe you would argue with the test-optional standard and the high costs of the SAT, a good solution is to not take it at all.
Although College Board tests are not required, every student feels forced to take them in order to seem competitive in the cutthroat college admissions process. The fact that students and their parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars on SAT Test Prep signifies that the SAT does place a large weight on college applications.
Without getting a 1500 on the SAT and a few 4s and 5s on your AP exams, it looks as if you slacked off during your years in high school. If these tests are continually viewed as indicators of intelligence, students will continue to grovel their way towards them, forking over their money to be represented by a number that might, just might give them an edge in the college admissions process. And the cycle repeats for the next graduating class to suffer the ills of a monopoly that has no plans of ending.
Another gap is created by education, specifically interstate as well as international. Different states have different curriculums to adhere to, creating a gap in knowledge being taught. And don’t even mention the international students that have to brutally suffer through the English section, despite English not being their first language. It’s a complicated enough language for English speakers. Not providing international students with some sort of exam accommodation, such as more time, serves to disadvantage them as they are placed on the same level as native-English speakers.
Environment also plays a key role in how you develop academically. Being brought up in a good neighborhood and academically driven area or a stressful and poverty-stricken environment can show its consequences in the future. In fact, there is a large impact on learning based on the environments students live in. Less-than-ideal academic surroundings therefore inhibit students from reaching their potential, which could be harmful when the unavoidable effect is reflected in their SAT score.
Ethnicity correlates with test scores as well as representation in colleges. A research study conducted by Brookings Institute says that consistently low math SAT scores among the Black and Hispanic demographics are perpetuated by “generations of exclusionary housing, education, and economic policy.” It is no wonder then that Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented at more selective colleges. Lower scores mean less competitiveness, therefore less chances to get into college.
However, Brookings believes that the SAT should not be removed, arguing that the SAT gives students a chance to prove themselves by their own merit. But, if we kept the SAT, its influence would continue to inaccurately portray students through their scores. It makes no effort to consider the behind-the-scenes causes of the scores of students. Economic background? No. Ethnicity? No. How much sleep you got the night before? No. All that is used to calculate your SAT score is the questions you get right and wrong. If the SAT does not even consider these situations that would play a part in score outcome, then their scores become “better proxies for how many opportunities a student has been afforded than they are predictors for students’ potential” according to Brookings.
While the SAT is only one part of the application process, it is the only “objective” piece of information, i.e. an unwavering number, to compare prospective students by. Therefore, it does still hold a heavy weight in the college application process, much more than it should. CourseNotes explains, “a poor SAT score will ruin many an application, especially in the more prestigious colleges” despite colleges being test-optional and applications being reviewed holistically. The objectiveness it champions is irrelevant when we consider the factors that impact the validity of the number. Therefore, the SAT is once again rendered inadequate in comparing students, and should not be in the college admissions process.
Through and through, the SAT provides test scores that tell very little despite the weight they hold, and even then do not encapsulate all of the factors that go into producing a test score. Colleges should stop putting an emphasis on SAT scores altogether, looking to trends in grades, extracurriculars and essays with more weight. Truly, those aspects will show academic ability over time as well as readiness, even excitement, for college as the next step in a student’s academic journey.