By Summer Wong
The SAT. High school students cringe at the very word, but as painful as the SAT and ACT may be, they are an integral aspect of the college application process.
In June 2014, Hampshire College, a Massachusetts private liberal arts college, announced that undergraduate admissions would be “test-blind” in order to promote diversity and “authentic assessment.” Their goal is to shift the focus from one four hour test to a more well-rounded view of an applicant.
Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, argues that “teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. ”
A year later, Lash announced on the university website that since going test blind, Hampshire College has seen a six percent increase in first generation student enrollment, and a ten percent increase in students of color on campus in the past two years..
However, these statistics do not account for the fact that Hampshire College’s admissions officers now have no idea of the academic caliber of students they’re accepting into their institution.
Standardized testing is a simple and effective way for colleges to gain a holistic view of what an applicant has learned throughout their entire educational journey.
Most people do not seem to grasp that SAT & ACT scores do not determine whether an applicant is accepted or denied into a particular educational institution; but are merely a factor in that decision. They’re meant to measure general academic ability and to serve as a uniform standard to judge applicants.
Moreover, the SAT and ACT is also a fairly accurate way to judge an applicant’s GPA and the strength of the applicant’s curriculum throughout high school. If a student scores a 2400 on the SAT but has a low GPA, admission officers will be able to infer that the classes taken were challenging. At the same time, if someone receives a low score on the SAT and has a high GPA, admission officers can infer that the classes taken might have not been an accurate reflection of the applicant’s knowledge of the subjects. Thus, the SAT is an effective tool to compare students from different high schools across the United States, and to also compare students within the same high school.
Some may argue that finances play a huge role in a student’s SAT/ACT score. Based on a 2013 report from U.S. News, these courses can cost up to $2,000, giving wealthier students a significant advantage on the tests. In these prep schools, kids are taught the specific strategies to get the highest score possible. Thus, according to these individuals, those who cannot afford preparation courses are at a serious disadvantage.
While this argument is compelling, the studying and the rigorous courses students take throughout high school is much more helpful than any prep school out there. The academic course load of Honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes is sufficient to prepare for these standardized tests. As stated by columnist Jo Craven McGinty in The Wall Street Journal, “The best preparation (…) is to have paid attention in school, studied hard and learned the material”. Likewise, University of Colorado, School of Education, Professor Derek Briggs has studied the results of test preparation and remarks that while coaching often improves scores, it’s less dramatic than as advertised. He maintains that highly motivated students are likely to improve their scores regardless of enrolling in a prep course. Thus, these courses are an option, not a necessity to do well on the SAT and ACT.
To make matters even more convoluted, schools across the United States do not have the same GPA system. Some schools subscribe to a weighted GPA system, while others do not. In addition, the point system varies — some high schools set their maximum GPA at 5.0, while others use 4.0 or less. The use of standardized testing helps admission officers understand an applicant’s GPA and bridge the gap between the myriad of different systems.
In addition, the SAT and ACT are well-constructed exams that accurately reflect what students have learned throughout high school. These tests examine deductive skills, critical thinking and general high school knowledge. While the test isn’t perfect, as Vanderbilt researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow assert, “the SAT predicts life outcomes well beyond the college years, including income and occupational achievements.”
While the SAT and ACT do not make up an entire college application, they are needed for the application process. Most colleges and universities evaluate applicants holistically, and these exams are only meant to test general intelligence. These exams are simply a necessary evil for college admissions.
Summer Wong is a first year biological sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.