Standing Up For the SATs

The SATs are changing again. In case you haven’t heard, College Board announced on Wednesday that they’d be reverting back to the old 1600-point system and ditching the essay portion of the test. This announcement has caused two kinds of responses, as far as I can gather: “Hooray!” and “That’s not good enough! Get rid of the SATs once and for all!”

To those “hooray!” people, I say only this: the only thing you’ve gotten away with is the death of the essay portion – I know that many of those in this camp are students that haven’t had to take the test yet. You can think all you want that protests against College Board have actually done something, and you’re wrong. The test has undergone changes before, and it’s time that it changed again. But in general, I don’t have beef with the “hooray” people.

Now, the others? Those that want to ditch the test? I want to have a word with them.

I wasn’t angry at this particular group of people until I read an op-ed in the New York Times (Which you can read here) called “Save Us From the SAT” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It makes a few points that I’d like to respond to.

Number One: Boylan starts the essay by recounting her personal experience with the SAT… and how she daydreamed. She stared at the girl in front of her, thought about college, and wondered why she was being put through such “torture” all while under a time limit. Later on in the article, she says that one of College Board’s greatest flaws is holding the test early in the morning (take note that the administration of the SAT must start between 8:30 and 9 AM, and the majority of high schools in Maryland start classes before 8 every day). Look, I know it’s hard to focus in the morning, and I know it’s hard to focus during tests. Guess what? That’s school. That’s college. These tests are designed to test a student’s ability to focus in difficult situations, because college is difficult! College students study at all hours. They have exams at inconvenient times – and, twice a year, several major grade-determining tests within a week.

Boylan makes an argument that frustrated students have been making for years when her teenage-self wonders what an English major would need with an algebraic equation. What else would you test, exactly? Children across this country are mandated to be educated for over a decade, and at the end of this educational journey they’re sat down for a test on what they’ve been learning for years. It could be the two-step, if you’ve been studying it for your entire life you’d better expect to be tested on it.

It’s said that there are kids that have an unfair advantage because they’re wealthy and pay for tutoring. I’m about to save everyone a lot of money: Take a trip into a guidance counselor’s office and you’ll find that the staff are more than willing to help you find cheap or even free program for study because that’s their job. Every library in the country has a few practice exams in huge, bulking books (guess how yours truly studied for the test).

The fact of the matter is that we need a standard. There is no one factor that can determine a student’s potential. You need the Big Three – that is, good grades, good test scores, and a strong list of extra-curricular activities. Each component of the Three has a purpose. The grades are obviously a show of a student’s potential to work and learn in class; they’re the most accepted measure of a student’s worth in school. Extra-curriculars show that the student has healthy, productive interests and often serve as a measure of leadership potential. Test scores show mastery of material and ability to study. Which of the skills taught by the Big Three are most crucial in a college setting? I bet you can’t guess.

SAT scores are as close to a standard as we’re going to get I comparing the aptitude of incoming college students. GPAs can be inflated or deflated unfairly based on individual school systems, their grading policies, and the level to which the student challenged himself. Extra-curriculars are heavily influenced by the student’s environment. So we’re left with standardized tests. In a society where admission is competitive and supposedly based on potential as a student and scholar, there has to be a benchmark. It may not be a perfect benchmark, but there has to be one or our already-screwed-up higher education system will be in worse condition.

There’s good news for those who don’t do well on the SATs. Many colleges consider GPAs, extra-curriculars, or some other factor (ethnicity, major, essay) to be more important than SAT scores. Apply there. Or take the test again, because you do have that option. Just by the way.

The SATs are stressful, demanding, and confusing. I hate to break it to everyone, but college is stressful, demanding, and confusing. Because it’s the closest we’ll get to a black-and-white comparison for millions of college applicants, I stand up for the SATs. Prepare for the test, make yourself attractive to the admissions panel of your dream school, and stop complaining, because that Saturday morning is just a glimpse into the next four years of your life.

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2 Comments

  1. Personally, i find the SAT’s to be a bad judge of someone intelligence. This is coming from my experience where i would get in the low 600s for the math portion of the exam when i would be getting As on my calculus 3 exams. All the math problems were pre-algebra or geometry, while i was doing partial derivatives and upper level computations.

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    • I hear you, Mikey; I was well into AP Statistics when I took my test. That’s why I advocate for taking a look at a practice book, regardless of what level a student it at. Students of that caliber have clearly learned those more basic concepts, it just takes a little bit of work to feel comfortable with them again.

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