Since its advent, the SAT has been heralded as an unquestionable requirement for entry to any given college or university in America—so much so that it’s been a longstanding pop culture trope. But in more recent years, many experts and even college institutions have been questioning the validity of the SAT and whether its necessity for college admissions should be maintained. For any college-bound high schooler that may be considering taking the SAT, it’s therefore a good idea to get a complete picture of the SAT before signing up for the big test.
Due to variability in curriculum, class selection, and grading across high schools, supporters of the SAT would argue that it evaluates students on an even playing field compared to GPA. Of course, there are issues with that idea in practice (see “cons”), but it should be noted that the College Board is aware of that and has been making attempts to fix it (e.g. the redesign and offering for free test prep through The Khan Academy).
Make up for application weakness
For students who lack competitive GPAs for their dream schools, a high SAT score might be able to offset doubts about academic preparation. So, if this is a concern for you, it would be a good idea to start looking into how you can set yourself up for success on the SAT because…
The SAT is a learnable test
The beauty of the SAT and standardized tests in general is that no matter what your natural test taking ability may be, many people can learn how to score high with targeted and dedicated test prep. If you are willing to put in the time and work, drastically improving your performance on the SAT can not only improve your chances for competitive schools but can also be a source of immense personal satisfaction, as it was for me.
Good preparation for future tests
Most graduate programs also require standardized tests, such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT, as part of the admissions process and it is a fact that doesn’t seem like it will change. Therefore, preparing and doing well on the SAT can give you the confidence and understanding of best test prep practices to be able to do well in other standardized tests down the road.
SAT alone not a strong predictor of college success
The largest ever study comparing students who did and didn’t submit the SAT at test-optional schools found virtually no difference in grades. Furthermore, this study confirms that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success; in fact, students who have higher SAT scores but lower high school GPAs appear to fare worse than students who have lower SAT scores but higher high school GPAs. Many studies do indicate, however, that the combination of GPA and test scores are the best predictors of academic success.
Too much importance placed on the SAT
Although more and more schools are joining the test-optional movement, the SAT continues to have a lot of importance not just for admissions purposes, but for merit scholarships and determining rankings for schools. This over-reliance on the SAT is a disadvantage for students who have learning styles incompatible with the SAT or who demonstrate their talents in different ways.
Race and class biases associated with the SAT
One of the most controversial aspects of the SAT is that there have been persistent correlations between high SAT score and certain racial groups and those from families with higher incomes, as Kristin noted in this post. For this reason, many schools are choosing to go test-optional to make their admissions process more inclusive for underrepresented students.
Test prep requires time, energy and money
As the vast majority of people are not SAT-taking killing machines, the most obvious drawback of the SAT is that preparing for it is quite a time-consuming and expensive commitment. With all the questions surrounding whether the SAT is a fair or even necessary component of the college application process, some students may find that their time might be better spent focusing on their high school grades and/or more deeply exploring their extracurricular passions.
What is important to understand is that a while good score on the SAT likely has positive implications regarding one’s ability for academic success, a bad score on the SAT doesn’t and shouldn’t imply otherwise. There are many ways to measure whether a student will be successful in college and beyond and probably to the relief of many students, a lot of colleges are beginning to understand that.