The SAT: Shamelessly Asinine Test

Katherine Haden, Staff Writer

The SAT claims to measure a student’s college readiness, but in reality, the only thing it measures is your ability to decipher such strange questions that they might as well be in a foreign language. It’s no wonder that so many test prep resources are dedicated to test-taking strategies rather than classroom content.

Standardized testing inherently requires an entirely different skill set from regular classroom learning; by reducing understanding to bubbling in multiple-choice answers, the SAT fails to take into account the nuance that falls outside of the answer choices (especially in the reading section) and instead rewards random guessing. 

Furthermore, the time pressure penalizes students with test anxiety and those who may know the content but need time to think things through–with just over a minute to spend on each question (in a nearly four-hour-long test), it’s all too easy to panic or lose focus, and all too difficult to find time to check your work.

While frustrating, these flaws could be overlooked if the SAT were actually a valid tool–after all, it would still be useful to have some kind of standardized measure of college readiness when schools and programs can vary so widely in caliber–but the SAT fails at its primary objective: predicting success in college. There are so many skills that play a role in success that academic tests just can’t measure: creativity, resilience, perseverance, and confidence, to name just a few. Plus, the SAT’s focus on reading, grammar, and math completely ignores most subject areas–which may be students’ strengths (the sciences, history, economics, foreign languages, etc). 

Also, the SAT “Writing” section should really be renamed: just because someone knows grammar rules doesn’t mean they’re an effective or persuasive writer. Grammar is obviously important, but conveying an idea concisely and clearly is even more so–and now that the SAT Essay is no longer offered, it’s impossible to get a sense of a student’s actual writing ability from their SAT score.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that college graduation rates are correlated with GPAs much more strongly than ACT scores, according to a study by the University of Chicago. (It is important to point out that the study deals with the ACT, not the SAT, but the overall point about standardized testing still stands.) After all, GPAs are a long-term cumulative measure of students’ ability to study and complete assignments over all four years of high school, while the SAT is a measure of how well you can sit for a purposely tedious and confusing test. (Of course, GPA is a fundamentally flawed measure as well since it also reduces comprehension to a number, and it unfairly penalizes students who struggle initially but improve over the course of high school, but that could be a whole article on its own!)

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly harmed the SAT’s relevance–more than 80 percent of four-year colleges are now test-optional. However, beyond making college applications even more confusing (as students now have to weigh their score against the colleges’ averages and make a guess in the dark as to whether it would benefit them to send theirs in or not), test-optional policies have done little to reduce the entrenched expectation that every college-bound student, regardless of circumstance, must spend hours upon hours studying for the SAT as well as dollars upon dollars in fees, tutors, and paid resources; and must retake it multiple times in the hopes of achieving a higher score–all of which further lines the pockets of College Board. 

The costs of taking the SAT add up quickly, especially considering that most students test multiple times (at $60 per test, along with extra fees incurred for canceling registration, late registration, sending scores to colleges 9 days after the test, the list goes on…). Even more egregiously, however, College Board sells students’ names and personal information to colleges for 47 cents a pop, allowing these universities to “shop” for students from specific interests and backgrounds to send them promotional materials. Worse, however, these colleges may not be looking for students who are a good fit but rather purposely targeting students whose statistics are lower than the college’s average and are likely to be rejected, thus encouraging them to apply purely in order to increase the number of applicants and make themselves appear more selective to benefit rankings.

The pressure to chase after a number can take a profound toll on students’ mental health–we are told not to let a number define us, and while this is valuable advice, it’s hard not to when colleges are still using SAT scores as a potentially deciding factor in admission. Ultimately, the SAT is an old relic clinging on to relevance, with colleges still firmly in its clutches–yet another arbitrary burden on students in the already grueling college application process.


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