In the beginning of every school year, sixteen and seventeen year olds with aspirations of studying at an American university, moan and groan about the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) preparations. They probably even pitch to their parents, the classic sentiment, “Why do I need to take this stupid test?” Though the question is asked out of a place of frustration, it’s a valid question. Why are students taking the SAT? What does the SAT even test?
Many assume that the SAT is an IQ test. It’s not. Many others assume that taking the SAT or ACT evaluates how well prepared a student is to study at a university. This is also a false assumption. Failing the SAT doesn’t mean a student is not intelligent, or unprepared to study at a university, or just a bad test taker. This is because the SAT tests how well you can take the SAT. If you crack open the spine of any SAT prep book, the author usually admits this fact somewhere in the first ten pages. I know, it’s frustrating.
What’s the point of this test then? Why are U.S university hopefuls around the world forced to take standardized tests if the SAT doesn’t actually test anything? University admissions councils are asking that same question, and hundreds of U.S universities are becoming ‘test-optional’ institutions. This means it is no longer required for prospective applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores to apply to a test-optional university.
Many liberal arts colleges in the U.S started this movement years ago. However, on July 27 2015, George Washington University (GWU) joined these liberal arts colleges and gave the test-optional moment the national attention it deserves. Because of its name and rank, GWU is regarded as the first prestigious university to become test-optional and a huge win for the movement. GWU justified its move to becoming ‘test optional’ in a press release stating, “The test-optional policy…will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households.”
GWU’s statement is sadly ironic. This is because in 1926 the SAT was created and instituted in Harvard and Princeton as a method of finding bright high-achieving students, from low economic and minority backgrounds, and giving them the scholarships they need to attend Harvard and Princeton. It was supposed to be a new method of social inclusion, showing that meritocracy in education is effective. Today, critics of standardized tests would say that the SAT no longer measures meritocracy the way that people originally assumed. An one billion dollar testing industry has severely warped the standards, so much so that the test is now a better measurement of family wealth than intelligence or hard work.
That’s right, today standardized testing is measuring the wealth of the parent, and not the hard work of the child. So again, why are we making students take this stupid test? The original purpose of the exam was economic inclusion, pulling hard working, talented students out of poverty by showing how their hard work has paid off. But it’s not working that way at all! As GWU highlighted, at best, the SAT has become a barrier for the poorest students to get into the best universities. Some of them can’t pay for the test prep, let a lone the test administration fee. This is why many of these talented students end up going to local community colleges instead of Ivy League universities.
By continuing to require the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests we are only funding an one billion dollar student testing industry and setting up even more hurdles for our children. While I was attending undergrad, I had one professor jokingly state, “the only people who get into Harvard started some non-profit for some third world country.” She said it in jest, but my only friend from my high school who enrolled at a Harvard affiliate program hosted an annual event called ‘Dance for Darfur’ where the proceeds from the event were sent to help those effected by the genocide in Western Sudan.
If you really need to make your own ‘Dance for Darfur’ to get into Harvard, than university admissions are hard enough. We shouldn’t continue to require outdated tests that only weeds out those who can’t afford to take it, and then punish teachers by cutting their salaries if students don’t do well. It’s neither the students nor the teachers’ fault. Everyday students are taught literature, sciences, languages, and maths, not the SAT and the ACT. If those tests are only testing how well students do on those tests, and not college preparedness, is there any point to those tests at all?