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Abolish the SAT

Every university-aspiring high school student has gone through the ritual of spending four hours on a Saturday morning filling in tiny bubbles in a test booklet labeled “The SAT.” With the College Board’s recent announcement of an overhaul to the SAT which will enact changes in the spring of 2016, I was reminded of an important question: should the SAT be required for college admissions at all?

Years ago, before the rise of high-powered review courses and coaching sessions that teach students how to take the test, the answer was “yes.” It was a way to level the playing field, to create a standard to balance out every high school’s different and possibly inflated GPA calculations. Now, wealthier students with access to resources that prepare them for the SAT have an advantage over less privileged students, often resulting in discrepancies of hundreds of points. With the former scoring higher than less privileged students of similar standards of aptitude and work ethic, the SAT playing field is no longer level. In my standardized testing preparation experience, most of my friends took an SAT class by the Princeton Review or hired a private SAT tutor. When everyone in the class was benefiting from private instruction, it was hard not to cave into the pressure and sign up for personalized instruction.

The SAT has a huge impact in a college admission officer’s evaluation of a candidate. An increase of a hundred points can push a student from outside the normal accepted range to within that range. However, this may not be the best indicator of intelligence or future academic performance, because the SAT score is no longer entirely reflective of a student’s ability. The SAT score may vary due to different methods of preparation, which may be extensive, as parents with the available resources are sending their children to test prep agencies as early as sophomore year of high school. The SAT’s importance is so significant that the ranges of accepted students’ scores are published under admissions statistics, so that potential disadvantaged students with lower scores may not even apply if they are in the lower range of scores.

An SAT score is too definitive of a number. Too often people define their intellectual abilities with their SAT score, and measures of other talents pale in comparison to the definitive nature of a numerical score. It puts a numerical stamp on people’s ability to take tests, whereas there is no such definitive measure for other abilities such as musical performance, speaking ability or athletic performance, all of which are important factors for an admission officer to consider when evaluating a candidate.

As SAT scores may still provide a (limited) scope of students’ ability across different schools’ grade calculations, they should not be banished across the board. They may still offer some standardizing information to admission officers, and the new SAT is now a better indicator of performance in college classes. Colleges should consider adding an option to make submitting standardized testing scores optional so that submitting scores would only help, and not submitting scores that are lower than the admitted students’ ranges would not cause the student to be evaluated less based on his score. Grades throughout four years of high school would be used as the indicator for future academic performance, as records from four years of hard work are more telling than a single-session three-hour test.

Katherine Zhao is a freshman from East Brunswick, N.J. She can be reached at kz2@princeton.edu.

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