The SAT: three little letters that have the ability to make any high school senior break into a cold sweat. High school teachers, guidance counselors and parents often emphasize the importance of doing well on this infamous standardized test, previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. While they are not wrong to encourage students to do well on their SAT (Now referred to as the SAT reasoning test), parents and teachers often overemphasize how important these scores really are and put an unnecessary amount of pressure on already stressed-out seniors. Not only is the importance of SAT scores exaggerated, but it has also come under scrutiny for being culturally and sexually biased and for not being an accurate measurement of a student’s real abilities.
If you’re preparing for your SAT or if you are a parent with a high school senior, it is important to separate truth from fact. Here are some common myths regarding the SAT…
Myth #1: SAT test scores alone will determine whether or not you are accepted into college.
Reality: While it is true that SAT scores do play a role in the admissions process, it’s definitely not the only determining factor. Academic records, essays, letters of recommendation, awards, extracurricular activities, community involvement and work experience may all be taken into consideration when evaluating a candidate.
Myth #2: The SAT is a more accurate measurement of a students’ ability than high school grades.
Reality: Although grading standards can be flawed as well, they are still the best predictor of first year college performance. A student’s high school GPA is also a more accurate predictor of whether or not a student will eventually attain their Bachelor’s degree.
Myth #3: Students must score over 1350 on their SAT to be accepted into any Ivy League school.
Reality: Every year thousands of students with good academic records, but lower than average SAT scores are admitted to top schools. Don’t put too much faith in guidebooks, which provide median scores for each school. Admissions officers realize that even some of the most motivated students do not perform well on standardized tests.
Myth #4: It’s better to leave a question blank than to guess if you don’t know the answer.
Reality: Students can typically easily eliminate at least one, if not two answers as being definitely incorrect. SAT scoring awards one point for every correct answer, zero for every question left unanswered and minus only one-fourth of a point for every incorrect answer. As you can see, statistically speaking, it makes more sense to guess than to play it safe and leave questions unanswered.
Myth #5: The SAT provides all students with an equal opportunity to get into college.
Reality: As discussed in the previous section, the way that the SAT test is constructed rewards strategic guessing. It also rewards students who work at a fast pace, putting more meticulous workers or poor test takers at a disadvantage. Finally, the SAT is culturally and sexually biased, denying many African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and women equal opportunities for a college education or scholarship programs.
Myth #6: Test coaching isn’t effective in achieving higher SAT scores.
Reality: On the contrary, studies show that good coaching programs can raise a student’s scores by at least 100 points. That being said, these courses tend to be very expensive ($800 or more) and only focus on test-taking strategies that are specific to the SAT, so for many students it may not be worth the time or money. This also adds another bias to the test, since students who come from families who can afford an expensive coaching class are already more likely to score higher on the test.
Myth #7: The SAT test-makers’ “exhaustive bias reduction procedures” guarantee that the test is fair.
Reality: Test-makers’ efforts are failing to eliminate bias from the SAT. Research indicates that the overall format of the test is to blame. The SAT is a fast-paced, multiple-choice test which rewards strategic guessing – a non-academic skill at which males tend to excel. The methods text-makers’ used to screen individual test items for bias fail to eliminate large discrepancies between students of different racial and ethnic groups.
Myth #8: The SAT is a good measure of what you need to know in college.
Reality: The SAT test really has little to do with the skills necessary for college. Many qualities that college requires cannot be measured by SAT performance, such as writing ability, strategic reasoning, higher order thinking skills, experience, persistence and creativity.
As you can see, the SAT is a very ineffective measure of students’ abilities, the importance of which tends to be overemphasized by high school teachers, guidance counselors and parents alike. Unfortunately, however, until test-makers or universities come up with a better way to measure student ability, the SAT may still have some bearing on college admissions, especially at Ivy League universities. That being said, remember that SAT scores are typically not nearly as influential as they are made out to be, so don’t let them stress you out. It’s a good idea to be prepared for the test, but expensive coaching systems are generally unnecessary and a waste of money that could be going towards your freshman-year tuition! If you don’t perform as well as you’d hoped, remember that your skills and abilities cannot be summed up in one single score. A wide range of other factors will also determine your acceptance to college, such as essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities and community involvement.