The SAT has been under fire almost continuously from a number of sources. Its critics include educators, parents, students, college admissions officers and education “experts”. Some of the criticism is well deserved but much of it is egregiously wrong and one wonders at the mindset of the people who make it.
These are the main criticisms of the SAT.
_ It is not a good predictor of college success.
_ It favors the rich who can afford to hire tutors and take the test multiple times if they so choose.
_ It does not take into account what poor students have to overcome.
_ The GPA is a more accurate assessment of academic ability.
_ Students who are poor test takers are at a disadvantage when they take the SAT.
_ The test is too rigorous and subjects students to intolerable pressure.
Here is my take on the SAT and why it will continue to be a part of the college admissions process.
The main reason the SAT (or the ACT) is necessary is that it provides a common yardstick to measure the ability of students nationwide. Without it, there is no way to compare students in different parts of the country. The GPA is a good measure of a student’s high school academics but a 4.0 GPA in a good school in suburban N.J. is very different from a 4.0 GPA in rural Arkansas. If the SAT did not exist and college admissions relied only on the GPA, there would be rampant grade inflation as schools tried to give their students a leg up in the race to get into a good college.
The SAT is only one part of the student’s college application. If it were the sole criteria for college admission then, yes, that would be wrong. However, in addition to SAT scores, college applications require the complete record of high school courses taken and grades, college admissions essays, personal statements, recommendations from H.S. counselors and a listing of extra-curricular activities and volunteer work. Taken together, they provide as complete a record of a student’s capabilities as is humanly possible. Because the application is so comprehensive, students have an opportunity to explain how their circumstances might have affected their academics. For instance, if a student has to work park time to support his family financially, it can be stated in the application and will be taken into account by admissions officers when assessing his academics.
It is true that tutoring can substantially increase a student’s SAT score. However, it is not essential . A motivated student can work either on his own or with his friends and still achieve good scores. We are all familiar with the stories of Vietnamese refugee children ( and others) who arrived in America knowing no English and in three or four short years graduated as valedictorians and achieved stellar SAT scores. It should also be noted that some schools offer either free or very affordable SAT prep courses and that their number is increasing everyday. No matter what is done, well to do students will always have an advantage over others not just because they can afford tutoring but because of a stable home environment which encourages studying. However, truly motivated students can surmount the obstacles in their way.
The SAT is not a good predictor of college success but nothing really is. To do well in college, a student must have a good work ethic, curiosity, critical thinking and good math and language fundamentals. The SAT does provide a good assessment of basic skills, particularly in math and critical thinking. It is not as good in measuring language skills but the proposed changes to the exam beginning 2016 will improve it in this area too. The complete college application does provide a fairly good assessment of how a student will do in college but it is by no means fail safe. No matter how well a student does in high school, there are any number of reasons why his college performance may drop off. Some students succumb to partying and other pleasures. Some are intimidated by the level of competition or by being on their own. Others fall in love and let it affect their academics. Any number of things may change.
BTW, some firms ask job seekers for their SAT scores, so I guess they are a good measure of something. ( I don’t agree with this practice because a college graduate is very different from what he was in high school 4 or 5 years earlier when he took the SAT).
As for the criticism that the SAT stresses out students and affects their performance, all I can say is ” Welcome to the real world.” The parameters of the test are well publicized and they have plenty of time to prepare for it. In life, you don’t get to pick and choose what kind of test you would like to take. Or when you would like it. One letter in the NYT pointed out that the test is administered at 8:30 AM, a time when students are barely awake and not at their best. Does the writer realize that most jobs begin at or around that time and that workers do not get dictate when they start work?
True, the SAT does last for almost 4 hours( 3:45, to be exact) but this is nothing compared to what young people will have to face when they go for job interviews. These interviews often last the better part of a day , even a full day or more, and the stakes are much higher. THAT is real pressure.
Yes, in spite of all its detractors , the SAT is here to stay. This is not to say that it is perfect. Far from it. However, it IS pretty good and the proposed changes will make it better.
NEXT: The Changes to the SAT.