BY NUHA ISLAM
As students move up the high school hierarchy, one of the many things they juggle are college entrance exams, specifically the SAT. Originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it was established by the newly formed College Board in 1926 to provide a singular assessment to all prospect university students. At the time of its introduction, this served to be extremely convenient. Predating the SAT, college readiness tests were school specific and required applicants to travel to the universities to take on-campus exams.
But no longer is this 100-year-old tradition easy or convenient. In fact, digging into the issue reveals very large and loosely covered gaps within the standardized test and calls into question the value of it as a benchmark for success.
“I’ve never been a strong test taker,” junior Christine Kim said. “I’ve always been the type of person to perform better in the classroom or on projects. When I first started preparing for the SAT, I found myself extremely frustrated because the questions used language that was convoluted.”
The goal of the SAT is to serve as a measurement of intellectual potential. In today’s world, being able to prepare and find success in a test is a good measure of achievement, especially for college. But while intelligence is not on a linear scale with socioeconomic status, SAT scores are.
According to the Washington Post, students who come from families with high-income levels on average do better on standardized tests. The findings of this study can be attributed to multiple factors. In childhood, they are more likely to be exposed to high-level vocabulary that could appear on the test and are raised in environments where education is likely to be prioritized, with access to better schooling facilities. Wealthy upbringing in many cases translates to a life time of foundational skills that act as early SAT preparations.
The wealth gap problem can also be seen in short-term preparations too. The SAT is an exam where learning strategies on how to answer exam questions can be just as helpful as studying actual content.
Learning these strategies from others can mean expensive private tutoring. A popular tutoring service in Cooper City, Varsity Tutors, offers private sessions, charging upwards of $2000 dollars for three-month sessions. Another option is learning these skills alone, which can mean buying prep books or working off Khan Academy and similar programs. Self-pioneering is more difficult and does not provide the same instant feedback as a live tutor does.
Many like Kim even find the timing of the test to be a fight against their biology.
“To have the mental stamina to focus on a three-hour test that is administered at eight in the morning is extremely difficult,” Kim said. “I spent many early Saturdays taking practice tests training myself to concentrate in a similar environment to ready myself for the real thing.”
The 2016 SAT redesign tried to solve many of the aforementioned issues, but ultimately failed. Changes included fewer sections, no guessing penalty and a shift towards critical thinking based problems rather than prior knowledge. A 2017 Brookings Institute report found that substantial gaps persisted across the scores of different races and ethnicities, even with the modified test form that used non-biased language. Similar studies that compared parental education reveal akin distribution patterns. The conclusion is the same no matter what data is looked at, the background of a student plays a role in how they do on the exam. The SAT is not an objective test.
What SAT scores really do is parse out high-achieving students. When faced with two candidates from different schools with unclear levels of competition and rigor, the fastest, seemingly most objective way to compare them directly is looking at SAT scores.
But as established, the scores a student receives are not based solely on academic merit alone and a 100-point score difference should not be the deciding factor for a rejection or acceptance. The “objective” SAT in many cases can prove harmful to upward mobility for those in low socioeconomic classes.
Already, many universities are reevaluating the role college placement exams play in their admissions. New York University now allows applicants to submit three AP exams as an alternative to traditional test scores.
Ultimately, all the SAT measures is a student’s ability to push through a purposely deceitful, lengthy test. And while they constitute a major part of the college application process, the turpitude of the SAT is shockingly laughable.
And yet to stay competitive in today’s college admissions arms race, many students will find themselves compelled to study for and take the SAT. On March 7, CCHS juniors are offered a free in-school test by Broward County, a measure to help offset the hefty $60 cost of registering for the exam.
“Right now, the SAT and ACT are major sources of stress for my juniors and understandably so. The scores they receive are crucial to deciding their future educational paths,” guidance counselor Ron Ziccardi said. “But like many things in high school, in the future the numbers they receive will be just that, numbers.”
Photo by The Lariat photography