College Admission Test Scores as an Accurate Measure of Intelligence

A 24 is Fine with Me
The week our ACT scores came back there was a frenzy to find out what everybody else had received. “I got a 24, what did you get?” If it was a lower score, we sympathized as the test taker droned on about how the science section was not fair or the writing portion didn’t portray anything anyway but secretly we smiled inside in a twisted, superior way. If the person got a higher grade than us we congratulated them then turned around and skulked, telling ourselves that they didn’t deserve that score, they must have cheated, and besides, the ACT didn’t mean anything anyway.

Someone complained to me about how they “only got a 28, oh my God, can you believe that? I have to retake it.” Our guidance counselor told us that this was the most important number in our entire lives. This would control our futures.

Teachers “taught to the test” almost our whole junior year. We took so many practice tests I thought we would vomit vocabulary words and math equations. Some students spent hundreds of dollars on courses that guaranteed higher scores. We learned how to speed read, how to skip the directions, answer every question all these little tricks to increase our scores. I’m sure the same thing happens for the SAT as well.

College admissions tests cause lots of unnecessary stress for students. Students feel that they have to receive a high score (generally 28+) and feel so much pressure to get that score. They feel if they do not get it then they are not smart enough, and cannot get into a good college.

College entrance exams also referred to as high stakes testing should not be such a significant factor in determining college entrance. The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Testing Program) are the main two such tests used for college admissions (Popham). Many people perceive these tests to directly portray a student’s intelligence, and this is just not true. High stakes testing is not a definitive portrayal of knowledge.

The main fault with the ACT and SAT is they cannot provide a complete picture of the students academic intelligence, which is what most people feel is its purpose. However, the main goal of these tests is to predict the student’s future success in college. It is in no way meant to be used as an IQ test. However, these tests are not even achieving the purpose of predicting future grades. To find out if the ACT/SAT’s predictions were correct, the relationships between the exam score and the student’s actual college grades were computed and came to a shocking discovery: these exams can only accurately predict about 25 percent of that student’s college grades.

In an analysis of placement and admissions exams in which 2,000 questions were examined, the study found that the tests do not fully measure a student’s readiness for college. Michael Cohen is the president of the group Achieve that conducted the study. Achieve’s purpose is to “help states increase the rigor of their academic standards and tests.” Michael Cohen said about the results of his analysis,

“What we found is that the tests that are out there, developed for very specific purposes, don’t fully or completely reflect the kinds of knowledge and skills that are incorporated into state high school standards in math and English. And if they don’t reflect those skills, but the tests are used anyway, and used for accountability, then they will have the effect of narrowing the curriculum and thereby reducing, or at least not improving, preparation for college” (Olson).

These college admissions tests are being used too exclusively by colleges in determining future student admission. They should be used along with other factors. W. James Popham Professor at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies said about the ACT and SAT,

“Test takers generally regard them [college admissions examinations] as definitive determiners of a person’s intellectual ability. Many people believe that SAT or ACT scores not only govern whether high school students will get into college, but also decide whether those students will succeed in college and in later life. Such views, although widely held, are wrongSAT and ACT scores are somewhat predictive of how well a high school student will prosper academically in college. But it’s important to remember that variables other than test scores have three times as much impact on that student’s college performance” (Popham).

Teachers put too much of an emphasis on the college admissions tests. This causes a very large amount of stress for students. When I say this, I speak from experience. My whole junior year I was one huge, stressed, nervous wreck. I constantly thought about the ACT and when I could finally relax, someone would start talking about it and it would start all over again. How can people expect us to put forth our best effort if we are so nervous we cannot think? Teachers put so much emphasis on this test we feel like we have to do well, because this is a huge, huge thing we are taking. In reality, these tests are not as big a deal as everybody makes them. Those that do poorly on the ACT or SAT are not “dumb” – they will still be able to lead a successful life. Those that do well on the tests are not necessarily “smart”; they are just good at taking tests. College admissions examinations are not completely useless; they can sometimes predict future grades. But this is a very small percentage of the time, and continuing to put such an emphasis on these tests is giving students the wrong impressions and the wrong facts.

Some people have even more of a reason to be stressed out over the SAT. Some minorities struggle greatly to achieve high scores on the SAT. Minority students are at a disadvantage because most cannot afford to get the private coaching that richer (mainly Caucasian) students receive. These courses can cost 800 dollars or more and raise SAT scores about 100 points. Asian American and white students tend to score higher on the SAT than African American or Hispanics (“The CQ Researcher”).

The ACT’s own information states that in 2006, “white students who took fewer courses than recommended by the ACT scored an average of 20.6, while African American students who took a more challenging curriculum had a 17.8 average score.” The same goes for Hispanic and Native American students who took more challenging classes but still scored lower than Caucasians who took less challenging ones (Farrell). This information shows that something is definitely wrong with the way theses tests are set up.

College officials defend the SAT by saying that “critics are scapegoating the SAT for inequities in public education generally.” One supporter of the SAT claims that the SAT is just reflecting the public in general, and getting rid of it would not solve anything (“The CQ Researcher”). However, denying minority students the chance to further their education because the public education system is not doing its best is by no means the solution. If the college admissions officials really feel this is true, then they should be taking steps to insure that all students have an equal opportunity.

The ACT was a horrible experience in my life that I wish to never repeat again. It was too much stress, too much hype, too much pressure. Research shows that I am not the only one who feels this way. Teachers, colleges, parents, even our peers, pressure us into thinking that these tests are the perfect examples of our knowledge. We are made to feel if we do not do well on the ACT or the SAT then we will not reach our life goals. These tests continue to limit students educationally and not just minorities. But even if we do not get a perfect exam score, that does not inhibit our lives. They may inhibit the colleges we want to attend. But once I learned that my score means practically nothing compared to the big picture, I realized that a 24 is just fine with me.

Works Cited
“‘Dump the SAT’ Trend…Slowly Gaining Support.” 29 Sep 2007 .
Olson, Lynn. “Caution in Use of College Entry Tests Urged.” Education Week 3211 Apr 2007 27 Sep 2007 .
Farrell, Elizabeth. “The National ACT Score Average Rises as the Test’s Popularity Grows.” Chronicle of Higher Education Vol. 53. Issue 2.01 Sep 2006 68. 27 Sep 2007 .
Popham, James. “Branded By a Test.” Educational Leadership Vol 63. Issue 7. Apr 2006 86-87. 27 Sep 2007 .