S-A-T…A-C-T…but W-H-Y?

Lindsey Hahn, AP Lit Set 4

Amidst all of the tests and essays assigned first semester, two life-changing words drive most Academy seniors to stave off senior-itis: college acceptance.  But, before joyfully receiving the coveted acceptance notice, seniors must focus on two equally important words: standardized tests.

According to a recent poll, 64 AHN seniors have taken a total of 234 SAT and ACT tests (110 SAT, 98 ACT, 26 unspecified).  Assuming a minimum four-hour testing process, the Class of 2011 spent over 936 hours taking the SAT or ACT, and some seniors will take these tests again to try and raise their scores.  Additionally, most seniors spend significant amounts of time studying for these daunting tests, either by frequenting tutors or completing practice workbooks.  Given that these hours could be put to use serving the community, raising GPAs, or participating in a variety of enriching activities, why do so many colleges require SAT/ACT scores of their applicants? 

 In a recent poll, many AHN seniors expressed their belief that colleges use standardized test scores as a way to “size up” or even “weed out” applicants.  According to one student, this works because, “it’s astandard and therefore all students [are] graded ‘fairly.’”  Colleges do, in fact, implement this form of distinguishing among potential students…and it makes sense.  In an interview with Ned Johnson of Prep Matters,  NPR reports that  “as more students apply to more schools, having a score to put with a GPA can help busy admissions counselors make the most of their time. That’s one reason why the majority of colleges and universities will continue to stick with standardized tests for the foreseeable future.”  Having a national standard to measure students against one another certainly aids in making admissions decisions, but such a standard falls under heavy scrutiny from students and others involved in the application process.

Several polled students argue that the concept of a level playing field does not apply to these nationwide tests.  While over 800 schools waive test score requirements, as documented in the “test scores do not equal merit” campaign of FairTest, most colleges continue to base admissions, in part, on the SAT/ACT.  One senior raises the important issue of cheating on the SAT/ACT.  When asked why colleges require standardized test scores, she replied, “[Colleges] believe they mean something, but because so many people cheat, the test scores mean very little [about who is qualified and who is not] .” 

Unfortunately, cheating occurs in any form of evaluation, including the SAT/ACT, schoolwork (GPA), and in various careers.  The SAT and ACT tests do not promise completely fair, untainted results, but neither could any other form of comparing students; this flaw in the system results as much from the corruption in society as from original format or design.

Perhaps what aggravates students most about taking the SAT and ACT, however, is the awful truth that, while a low score can ruin admission chances, a high score cannot guarantee the opposite.  With so many applicants, colleges must continually raise their admissions standards, and one of the easiest ways to do so involves elevating test requirements.  So many stories of perfect-score students denied from top universities dishearten even the most confident applicants and can lead to frustration with the entire admissions process.

But, for those dissatisfied with simply average SAT or ACT scores, relief may come in a most unexpected way: more standardized tests.  Yes, as odd as it may seem, specialized subject tests known as SAT-IIs provide students with an opportunity to prove their proficiency in certain subject areas not covered on the SAT.  As stated by the College Board, “By taking one or more SAT Subject Tests, you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself and provide a more complete picture about your academic abilities and interests.”  In the AHN poll, over 70% of seniors who took the SAT-IIs agreed that these tests accurately demonstrate their academic progress, whereas less than 15% of students said the same for the SAT/ACT.