Chris Lele

Why are SAT Scores Important?

SAT Scores Have Importantance

Imagine two students. One, whom we’ll call Harold, goes to an elite prep academy on the East Coast. His days are filled with endless studying since he is enrolled in advanced classes (Differential Calculus, Astrophysics, and Shakespeare) and the competition is intense. This year, despite all those 3 a.m. study sessions, he was able to only muster a 3.3 GPA.

The other student, Spencer, is enrolled in a 60-student school in a small town in America. He has always been top of the class and has had plenty of time for engaging extracurricular activities: captain of the baseball team, active in speech and debate, and a ferocious downhill skier come winter.

Who would you choose?

If you were the admissions officer at a competitive, whom would you pick? Harold or Spencer? Many of us see the phrase “top of the class” in Spencer’s quick bio and automatically choose him. He’s also a well-rounded and accomplished guy, compared to Harold, who seems to study far too much for his own good (psst! And he only got a 3.3).

But let’s see how our perception changes, when I add the following nugget of information:

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SAT score: 1580 out of 1600

SAT score: 1120 out of 1600

Now, all of a sudden, Harold seems like a brainiac, whereas Spencer seems far more average.

But wait, you protest! Why should we even have the SAT in the first place? Can’t we get all the information we need to know by just looking at GPA and the other information? Well, that’s the thing. The exercise above shows that we can’t always rely on GPA, since it differs from school to school, and from region to region.

The SAT is important because it gives us a score that applies to everybody. It allows us, in a sense, to compare the apple of an elite public school to the orange of a small town rural school.

Now I’m not implying that the admissions doesn’t already take into account such factors as the school you go to—especially if it is an elite one—or the classes you take (it does), but it is still difficult to quantify just what effect these things have. For instance, how would the following piece of information color your perception of the two candidates:

SAT score: 1310 out of 1600

SAT score: 1300 out of 1600

It seems that an expensive private school education doesn’t always get you a stellar SAT score. Whereas, a rural, small school education doesn’t always preclude a competitive SAT score.

The importance of the SAT in a nutshell

Simply put, an SAT score is a useful piece of information. It should not be the only piece of information—and it never is, even at those schools that weigh the most. But it is an important data point, that very few schools choose to ignore.

So however much you might rail against the test, or however many articles you read that decry the SAT as unfair, it still serves a useful purpose—to compare students, whether they be from very different walks of life or from the same small town rural school.


  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He’s been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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