How Reliable is the SAT?

Wondering whether the SAT is reliable in predicting college preparedness or success is kind of like wondering about the meaning of life. It’s an important question, but there’s no definitive answer. Still, it’s a question worth talking through and finding out where you stand on the issue. So, like the great philosophers in our time, let’s put our pondering caps on and try to tackle one of the biggest questions of our time: Truly, what is the meaning of life

SAT reliability -Magoosh

Things to know

In the last 10 years or so, the SAT really started to gather controversy because of these very questions about its reliability. As I’ve noted in this post about the pros and cons of SAT, there’s a lot of research that shows the old SAT was not a reliable measure of college preparedness. Of course, there is also research that disagrees. As a result, while a lot of schools still see the value of the SAT as part of their admissions process, more and more schools are joining the test-optional movement. This means that students can opt out of sending in their SAT or ACT scores.

Colleges have made this move for a variety of reasons. One is that they find that standardized tests don’t test the skills they look for their students. They may also want to give students the freedom of determining if their SAT score is a good indication of their academic performance. Finally, many schools see standardized tests as a barrier for students from underrepresented backgrounds, which is counter to their admissions goals. In fact, a lot of these schools saw increases in applications from such students when they went test-optional. Still, the jury is split about SAT reliability with valid arguments on both sides.

SAT reliability for the new test

According to the College Board, the SAT was revamped to better address these issues of college-relevant skills and student representation. They also claim that the new SAT is based on a lot of research about what’s needed for academic success in college. They even claim that they already have evidence that shows that the new SAT could predict success in college.

While this all sounds promising, we should still be a little skeptical. Of course the College Board is going to say that their product works! So, at the moment, the most honest answer someone can give you about SAT reliability is, “We’re not so sure yet.” In reality, it might take a few years of students trying out the SAT and researchers not associated with the College Board to test the relationship between the new SAT scores and how these students do in college. Only then we can we more confidently answer the question about SAT reliability for the new test.

What this means for you

If you read these arguments and find yourself morally against the SAT, that’s totally fine because now, it’s a lot easier than ever to apply to great schools that don’t require the SAT. But if you find yourself believing in the SAT’s merits, that’s totally fine, too.

Here’s the bottom line:

While the SAT could be a valid measure for academic success—and a lot of schools continue to think so—it is still only one measurement out of many to determine college success. GPA and extracurricular activities are also really important pieces of the college application process; students should not neglect developing these components in favor of stressing out about the SAT. That would be a really bad idea.

At the same time, doing well on the SAT can be the saving grace for students who might have had situations that kept them from doing well on these other components. After all, the whole point of the SAT originally to was to level the playing field for students who didn’t come from privileged backgrounds. I think we can all agree that the SAT is at its best when it’s used for that purpose.


By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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