By no means is the SAT a perfect test. Students who do poorly on the SAT often do well in college and vice versa. One’s score on the SAT does not indicate future potential nor does it show the personality of the test taker. The SAT does however, unlike any other factor used in determining admissions, allow for students to be compared.
Unfortunately, colleges and universities are forced to reject many qualified students. In assessing students’ applications, admissions counselors are given few details to rate the learnedness of each student. Among the most important factors weighed by admissions counselors are, the student’s high school GPA, SAT score, extracurricular activities, and quality of college essay. With the exception of SAT score, it is very difficult to compare students. One’s high school GPA for example, is often determined by the difficulty of the high school which the student attended. The challenge however, is not in comparing straight A students, who are likely to be excellent students no matter which high school they attended. The challenge comes in determining which B+ students should be accepted over other B+ students. With the SAT, the admissions counselor has something to help separate the students. If one student scores 100 points higher than another student with similar GPA and extracurriculars, the admissions counselor is able to assess that the first student may have gone to a more academically rigorous high school than the second student.
The goal of the SAT is to help colleges and universities determine whether or not a student will be able to handle the academic rigors of that particular school. The SAT’s failure to do this has less to do with the test itself than it does with the massive influx of SAT tutoring classes. Nowadays, students can essentially buy higher SAT scores by taking Princeton Review or Kaplan SAT preparation classes. Low income students, who are already at a significant disadvantage, are pushed back even further because they cannot afford to take the classes that guarantee “100 point” or “200 point” improvements. Were all students forced to take the SAT without the aid of preparation classes, the SAT would do a much better job of determining which students were prepared for particular colleges and universities.
The system has flaws. While college essays help to show the person behind the application, ultimately it is impossible for admissions counselors to know that the student they are accepting is more qualified than the student they are rejecting. The SAT however, at least allows for comparisons to be made. While the comparisons may not be fair, or perfectly accurate, they are necessary. The real debate should not be about whether or not we should abolish the SAT. The real debate should be about how we can improve it.