The changing of the SAT

We just went through three kids taking the SAT's.  I am not going to say it was pretty because it wasn't.  They all went to a school that did not spend a good part of the curriculum on testing but more on group learning.  Not to say that there were not tests but not really until high school. Needless to say they all had to learn how to take the SAT.  They were all diligent and got to the other side with tears, anger and frustration.  

I hated the SAT when I was a kid.  I bagged all the classes I was supposed to attend to learn about the test and instead went to softball practice.  I performed terribly but luck had it that the college that chose me looked at all the other things I did.  That admissions department also had the ability to read every application thoughtfully because there was not a common app on a computer that gave me the ability to apply to 15 schools with one click.  

There are multiple things wrong with the SAT starting with gender inequality and most important it easier for kids who can pay to learn how to take the test.  I am spewing data here.  The good things are that there are kids who have not performed that well in school but through pure smarts do awesome on the test.  That certainly says something about that particular kid.  It also helps universities and colleges create a pipe line of which application to read first.  If you are not even near the scores for that particular school then it becomes a reach and my guess it becomes a reach for the school to take that application seriously.  I'd say that applying early is a way to get around that but early applications do not take financial needs into account so if you need them and get accepted and then do not get financial help you are in big trouble.  The whole system is tilted towards the privelege.  Woudn't it be amazing if there was another formula vs the SAT to truly measure each students potential.  I am not sure that there is or ever be.  

Some schools have stopped looking at SAT's.  Someone told me the other day that their university decided a few years ago to make the test optional as part of the application process.  Ends up they have data on the kids that were accepted without the scores and they have done better than the ones with the high scores.  Interesting.  I probably would have been one of those kids.  I did pretty good in college but failed miserably at the SATs.  

The person who helped our kids prep for the SAT who knows the system well and incredibly smart said this; We are witnessing the dumbing down of civilization. This redesign seems very utilitarian and anti-intellectual.  An interesting perspective.  As horrible and frustating as the test is I am not sure changing it is the answer.  People will figure out how to game this too.  

Either get rid of the test, figure out how to have kids apply to less than 10 schools and start looking at the whole kid.  Not sure this change makes a difference.  It just creates another host of problems. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. pixiedust8

    I have mixed feelings about the SAT. I was one of those kids who didn’t really learn how to apply myself until college, so my grades were mediocre–but I did extremely well on the SAT. (I didn’t prep for it, either.) So, it definitely helped me, and I did well in college,because I figured out the self-discipline thing.I do think it penalizes other people, though. I don’t know about the redesign, but I did hear they are reducing the vocabulary words, which seems sort of counter-intuitive to me (without other knowledge).I think it should probably stick around, but needs to be just one factor taken into consideration.

  2. Laura Yecies

    There does seem to be a trend of many of the small liberal arts schools making it optional, recognizing how the SAT’s favor the wealthy, white, etc.. If there were a personal, thoughtful process mass tools like the SAT aren’t really needed. I don’t know how a big school (especially the state schools) can do that kind of process so it seems like we will have crude, mass tools like the SAT for a while.

    1. Gotham Gal

      yes crude mass tools. there must be a better way.

  3. College Admission

    Great piece, Joanne! As usual, you cut to the chase!

  4. Susan Rubinsky

    Back in the 80’s I was a kid with great grades but poor performance on the SAT. Back then, as now, most of the state universities used the SAT to weed out applicants before even actually reading the application. My family was blue collar and didn’t understand why I even wanted to go to college and it was expected that once you were 18, you were on your own. I only got into one college, a private one, and it was too expensive so I worked for a few years before finally working my way into and through state university.I think there are a lot of families, especially minority families, whose kids are in that same position now. The SAT is what gets you in the door, then the application is read.My son is 17 and preparing for taking the SAT this spring. He is taking an intensive prep course (four hours of class every Saturday for 8 weeks in addition to massive amounts of SAT homework and sample test taking online.) The way I see it is that it’s an investment that has long term payoff. Do I think it’s fair? Nope. But it’s how the game is played today.On the upcoming changes to the SAT, I am so pleased to see that the essay portion will be removed. The best essays in the world are not written in a test environment. Some kids (my son is one of them) need to do a lot of thinking, brainstorming, writing, editing and rewriting before the essay is good enough to hand in. My son has already been advised to work on writing a basic essay and then memorizing it and regurgitating it and reworking it to fit the essay question he is given on the day of the SAT. Also, he has been advised to not worry about the essay too much. A great majority of universities do not even consider the SAT essay score in the application process. Most universities publish a rubric indicating the specific scores and items that they look at in the admissions process. So, overall, the removal of the essay is a blessing.I do think we need some kind of standard test that insures kids have the core skills necessary for college. Is the SAT perfect? No way. There is also the ACT which tests other areas like science. My son is planning on taking both, then sending scores from either SAT, ACT or both depending on what that university values most (most universities publish a rubric on this on their websites) and/or how well he scores on each test.Another change that will be made on the SAT is the removal of a penalty for a wrong answer. That’s a relief! (Though it won’t be in place in time for my son.)Overall, the SAT tests how well your kid plays the game, it tests strategic test-taking skills just as much as it tests knowledge. Given how competitive it is now to get into college, it’s extremely stressful on kids and on families. (Maybe they should just make an online MMORPG where you have to actually accomplish things with teams of people collaborating with specific knowledge sets and then use those scores for the college app process. That would be pretty cool! I bet teens would love practicing then!)I agree with pixiedust8 about some people having an advantage with the SAT. My son happens to be really good at preparing for the SAT (with guidance) and scoring well on it. He already took it in 7th and 8th grade to score into a gifted youth program. If kids take it before 9th grade, those early attempts never appear on the SAT report that is sent to colleges. I think that if families and schools give kids more opportunities to take the test — perhaps in practice environments — the test becomes more familiar. If it becomes more familiar, it will be less scary. That’s why I was also pleased to hear that Khan Academy will be working with the College Board to develop online lessons and online practice tests. That will enable a lot more teens to prepare without the costs needed for test prep classes.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It’s a learned skill not taught everywhere.Great comment

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        Absolutely a learned skill. In my house we call the SAT (and some other things) “Playing the game.”

  5. Scarlett Sieber

    I tend to agree with you. While I got a “good” score on my SATs I had exceptional grades and people would constantly ask me why my SAT scores were not higher. It was annoying and as you mention I found the test to be bias.

  6. Brandon Burns

    Standardized testing was my saving grace. I was a horribly distracted student. I was usually bored with homework, and would rather read the encyclopedia front to back than do several hours of exercises that I felt were stupid. I was also a serious musician, and was busy with that.My grades were never as high as they could be, since I simply just wouldn’t do homework. But I always tested really well. SAT, ACT, and all my AP tests were 95% percentile or higher. I probably would have been forced to go to a lesser college had that not been the case. And I must admit, going to a fancy prep school didn’t hurt, either.That said, I think how a student does on subject based tests, like AP, are much more telling than the SAT. AP tests measure what you know in a specific subject, while SAT and ACT (and GMAT, LSAT, etc) measure “how well you think;” but the “thinking’ is specific to the test, so it creates a system that’s easily gamed. But if you’re like me and you game the system, it’s kinda awesome. Unfair, but awesome.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Its all about gaming the system. Sad but true

  7. pointsnfigures

    Hated the test as well. My kids took prep classes, and were advised NOT to take the SAT, but took the ACT. Fit them better. We need some way to sort, and many schools use the test to sort quickly. Of course, everyone should get a fair shot, individual look-but the crush of kids makes it impossible to do. Big bottleneck at admission offices. I don’t know what the answer is, but you articulated the problem well.True story, I took the SAT and posted a good enough score. Was being recruited by some highly competitive academic institutions-and so they set up a special test. Took the train downtown–>it was St. Patrick’s Day. Totally rushed through the test, finished early and went out into the city to enjoy the day. Called up the coach a week later and he asked me what the hell happened. My score was down by almost a third! Asked him if he wanted me to take it again….he said my first score was just fine.

  8. LE

    There is a book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” [1] which tells essentially how the jews created Hollywood because they weren’t accepted into corporate waspy america.Likewise there are many people who are entrepreneurs simply because they didn’t do well in traditional school and testing and were prevented from succeeding in a system that was not setup for the way they think or what they are good at.There is no doubt many people in careers now because they were identified at a young age at being good at math, science or music, that were pushed into that because they showed early promise from some form of testing. (In a golden handcuffs sense this could be called “academic” handcuffs). “She’s good at biology so she should be a doctor”.Imagine for a second if you had been good at the SAT’s . You might not be where you are today. You might be somewhere else and would that somewhere else be a better place?While there are for sure people that test well that become entrepreneurs that hasn’t been my experience. I’m talking about entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes. Not just the ones that came on the scene in the Internet age. Go survey the top people in real estate in NYC and see what their SAT’s were. Pure speculation on my part that you wouldn’t be that impressed.So maybe all this testing isn’t so bad and maybe the filter works also in the other direction. And is actually a good thing in a way. Keeps people out of careers that you need to continue to test well in. There are careers like that. My wife tests very well and it totally helps with what she does. Yet she could never do what you do. (Or I do). I dated a girl once who did close to 1600 (back in the day). She didn’t know that you could heat a pizza in a paper box in the oven. She never learned that specifically in school (she graduated top of her high school and near top of medical school though!)Another example is Fred. Fred probably did very well academically and so he went to MIT and I think he studied computer programming or engineering? But it really bears little relationship to what he is successful at today after getting his MBA. That said the MIT degree helped him get into Wharton (as did good grades and testing) and the Wharton MBA helped him land the job at the first VC firm most likely. So I guess the issue is the halo that is around a degree from a top school [2] as much as it is the testing that allows you to get into the top school. (As opposed to the difference in education from one school to the next).[1]…[2] And all the help that you gave him (maybe you were the one who encouraged him to get the MBA or take certain jobs?) was important. But to what extent did the fact that he went to MIT make a positive impression on how you saw his potential? I’d say it almost certainly did, right?

    1. Gotham Gal

      You are spot on.

  9. Jessie Arora

    There was a great conversation on NPR recently about universities making the SAT voluntary. I think real change will only come when universities make efforts like this and look at other factors when making admissions decisions.