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Does the SAT Really Represent College Readiness?

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Taking the SAT

With hours and hours of drills and practice and repetition, preparing for the SAT can be grueling on top of an already-packed schedule. In the middle of high school, we’re supposed to prep for and successfully take the SAT in order to get a result — a number — that tells colleges whether we are prepared for the academic rigor of university.

But, like me, many students may have wondered if it can really measure our readiness for college. Is it actually an outdated system that’s used to generalize students into a rank when intelligence and readiness looks different from person to person?

Your SAT score is just one measure

What makes us ready for college in the first place? It’s a lot of things: Having good grades in challenging courses, participating in extracurriculars, volunteering, and maybe working a part-time job are good indicators of a high school student’s life experiences. In addition, most colleges require the Common App essay and individualized essays.

But college admissions boards also look at the SAT scores, and we can never really know what they prioritize more: a holistic view of your life or a numerical score.

The SAT is an imperfect tool

Let’s take a look at the process of taking an SAT test and why the conditions of the exam may be inaccurate in demonstrating college readiness.

First of all, the SAT is taken over four straight hours. That’s a long time for anyone to focus on something. Every time I reached the end of the first two sections on the SAT, I started to feel fatigued, and even the short five or ten minute breaks didn’t help much. This lengthy test may be meant to measure the mental stamina of students, but most exams that are taken in high school and college aren’t this long.

Furthermore, there are multiple topics on it, which requires quick transitions from reading to writing to math to the optional essay. And the tight timing may add even more stress for the student. I know that when I took the SAT, I often rushed through the questions so that I could answer everything — not always the best strategy! The conditions of the SAT allow for everyone to perform their best.

Also, not everyone has the time, money, or resources to access study materials or take the SAT multiple times. There are some free online practice materials (thanks, Khan Academy), however, all of the review books can be quite expensive. Not to mention that the price for registration for the actual SAT can range from 47.50 dollars to more than 60 dollars, depending on whether or not the essay is included or if there are any fees. There is a fee waiver in place for those who can’t afford the SAT, but what about the people who fall in between those who can easily pay for their children to take the SAT multiple times and those who don’t fit within the fee waiver eligibility criteria?

The final reason is that not every student is a good test-taker. Someone could be really smart and do well in their classes but not be very good at timed tests of the SAT variety.

Looking beyond the SAT

Personally, I took the SAT three times, and didn’t do as well as I’d hoped on any of them despite the fact that I have had many challenging courses throughout high school with good grades in all of them. The scores I got were definitely blows to my confidence and it felt like I wouldn’t get into any good colleges because of them. At that point, I had already spent quite a bit on these exams and my morale had been lowered. I felt like my intelligence had been reduced to a (just above average) number that would determine my fate

I understand why colleges use this score as a factor for acceptance, as it’s an easier variable to compare and analyze between applicants. However, I am not a fan of how important the SAT is for college acceptance when there are other, more significant elements that determine the readiness of a high school student.

Still, the SAT (or the ACT) is often a requirement in the U.S., so play the game as best as you can. But students should know that their SAT score does not equate to their intelligence or worth as a student.