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The SAT: What's the Hype? Sabeen Malik

By Sabeen Malik | November 19, 2019

Standardized testing is one of the hottest topics in education nowadays, especially the SAT. Otherwise known as the “Scholastic Assessment Test” or “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” the SAT is a standardized test used widely for college admissions. With a scoring scale ranging from 400-1600, the SAT measures one’s ability in mathematics, reading, and writing. This specific test has been present in many students’ lives for a number of years. The SAT continues to change as years go on, but remains a widespread controversial topic with students, parents, teachers, and even college admission counselors.

The SAT was initially developed from the IQ test in 1905. At the time, the US army was experimenting with this new “IQ test,” which caused the College Board (the directory for the SAT) to rethink their approach to evaluate university applicants. Carl Brigham, who had worked with the Army to administer intelligence tests to over 2 million recruits, made his own version of the SAT. The College Board later modified this version to assess aptitude for learning rather than for received information.

The original SAT featured nine sub-tests, two of which were based on math and seven of which were based on verbal skills. The sections in the former category were entitled "Arithmetical Problems" and "Number Series," while the verbal sub-tests were called "Definitions," "Classification," "Artificial Language," "Antonyms," "Analogies," "Logical Inference," and "Paragraph Reading.” Many changes have occured since then, however. By 1994, many sections were dropped, including the two math sections and the “Artificial Language” section. In 2005, the most significant changes to the SAT were the elimination of questions that featured analogies and the introduction of the 2400 point scoring system with a required essay section. The 2016 SAT reverses some of these changes, creating the 1600 point system that many are familiar with today.

The SAT itself may be simply a test, but for many students, it can be extremely stressful. Many believe that the SAT really does determine your “intelligence” and predict how well-equipped you are for college. Says Monikah Schuschu, an employee at the CollegeVine standardized testing program, “We can say this much: overall, studies have shown that students who score higher on the SAT and/or ACT are slightly more likely to achieve higher grades in college and higher incomes after college.” This data implies that standardized test scores do have some play in college success, but that connection might not be very strong.

One question students tend to ask is, “Why do colleges place so much importance on this one test?” When asked, Jerome White, Director of Media Relations and External Communications of College Board, replied, “The SAT continues to be a valuable part of a holistic admissions process and is a valid predictor of college success and completion. All colleges accept SAT or ACT scores, and the vast majority require them during the application process.” Predictor of college success? How so? How is the SAT created in order to accurately predict college readiness? White responds to this by saying, “Our preliminary predictive validity study shows that SAT scores improve the ability to predict college performance above high school GPA alone and that there is a strong, positive relationship between SAT section scores and grades in matching college course domains.”

White, who works for the College Board itself, views the SAT as a positive force in college admissions. In addition, I interviewed, Rebecca Safier, a teacher and college admissions counselor who graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT. She had another answer for why the SAT is important. She states, “Your grades and high school classes may have different curriculum and levels of difficulty among schools. Because of this, it's hard for admissions officers to compare candidates' academic readiness on high school classes alone.”

Safier believes that because the SAT is so universal, it is beneficial for colleges when comparing students. However, not everybody agrees with this. Aarushi Ganguly, a junior at Greenhills who took the SAT this past October, talks about what she really thinks about this test. “The SAT isn’t a good way to measure college readiness,” she says, “College is about specialization, and a general test given to everyone doesn’t really help. Also, just because you can’t [succeed on] a standardized test [under pressure] doesn’t mean you’re not prepared for college. I took the SAT once, and I didn’t like the vagueness of the questions. It seemed like one question could have several answers, so I’d fix that.”

One question seemingly having several answers is a big problem. The questions on the test, especially in the reading section, are designed in a way that the test-taker must think the way the test wants them to think. For example, here’s a sample reading question on the SAT:

The question is asking for the “main purpose.” That term itself may strike you as very subjective. The purpose of something can be many different things, depending on an individual’s perspective. The paragraph could easily establish a relationship or describe a setting. That’s why the SAT and its format is so controversial. According to the New York Times, “The SAT is rooted in aptitude testing and is known for its “trickiness,” as educators say, like partly correct or plausible but wrong choices on answers.”

“Studying” for the SAT mostly consists of getting your mind to work in the way the SAT wants you to: strategizing and looking for only what you need to, not analysing. Many students respond to this by asking, “Well, what good is that?” Some college admission officers are just as confused as to the test’s purpose.

Still, the SAT has dominated the U.S.’s east and west coasts for years, while the ACT takes over the midwest. And although some colleges may place a heavy load on standardized tests, students shouldn’t devote their entire focus to a test like the SAT. “We know that the best predictor of college performance is high-school performance — not the SAT,” George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc said in a 2018 interview. In our dynamic world, learning itself is based on the effort that shapes students into leaders; the idea that colleges solely revolve around.

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Sabeen Malik
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