The SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test) is a United States national standardized test invented solely to denigrate high school students by giving them scores based on how well they picked a random answer in a multiple choice exam. It used to consist of two multiple guess sections — English and Mathematics. With the addition of a Writing section in 2005 (now optional), students can now feel smarter than their parents when comparing scores — since each section is scored from 200 to 800, the "old" maximum score was 1600, while now it is 2400.
The SAT has changed names over time. In 1990, it was realized that the SAT was in no way an "Aptitude" test measuring intelligence, and so it was changed to the "Scholastic Assessment Test." Three years later, the College Board (which runs it) decided it couldn't even claim that much, and so the letters no longer mean anything.
A similar competing test, that is also largely irrelevant to success in life and academia, is the ACT. (The ACT originally stood for "American College Testing," which was innocuous enough, but also now is simply the letters.) It contains four sections (English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science), and colleges give heavy weight to this test, despite the criticisms.
Studies vary regarding SAT scores and predictions of future success. Nearly 1,200 universities and colleges in the U.S., including the University of Chicago, have made test scores optional for applicants.
Some have argued that succeeding in the SAT does not measure anything meaningful other than the ability to take the test. In 2014, Bard College president Leon Botstein wrote for Time magazine:
The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic achievement in college. High school grades adjusted to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates are. The essential mechanism of the SAT, the multiple choice test question, is a bizarre relic of long outdated twentieth century social scientific assumptions and strategies. As every adult recognizes, knowing something or how to do something in real life is never defined by being able to choose a “right” answer from a set of possible answers (some of them intentionally misleading) put forward by faceless test designers who are rarely eminent experts. No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist, or physician—and certainly no scholar, and therefore no serious university faculty member—pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.
However, Botstein's conclusion was criticized in a subsequent Slate article:
In a study published in Psychological Science, University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Nathan Kuncel, and their colleagues investigated the relationship between SAT scores and college grades in a very large sample: nearly 150,000 students from 110 colleges and universities. SAT scores predicted first-year college GPA about as well as high school grades did, and the best prediction was achieved by considering both factors. [...] Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just first-year college GPA that SAT scores predict. In a four-year study that started with nearly 3,000 college students, a team of Michigan State University researchers led by Neal Schmitt found that test score (SAT or ACT—whichever the student took) correlated strongly with cumulative GPA at the end of the fourth year.
Additionally, test scores serve as a "broad yardstick to compare students across disparate school districts and states."
In 2020, the board of regents of the University of California system voted unanimously to phase out SAT and ACT scores from admissions by 2025. While the inability of many students to take these tests due to COVID-19 pandemic was one major factor, other rationales included concerns that these tests unfairly favor students from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.
However, this vote came against a recommendation by the University of California faculty senate, whose report on standardized testing recommended against eliminating the SAT/ACT from admissions based on finding "test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, UGPA [undergraduate GPA], and graduation."
Despite rhetoric by the board of regents that test scores are discriminatory towards disadvantaged groups, the faculty task force found: "Under the current eligibility system, tests do identify otherwise ineligible applicants who come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds. Admission tests find talented students who do notstand out in terms of high school grades alone." The Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn also recommended that the UC expand access to test prep resources to students who otherwise could not afford test prep.
How smart are you?
- Botstein, Leon. "College President: SAT Is Part Hoax, Part Fraud." Time: March 7, 2014. Accessed May 26, 2020.
- Hambrick, David Z., and Chabris, Christopher. "Yes, IQ Really Matters." Slate: April 14, 2014. Accessed May 26, 2020.
- Hubler, Shawn. "Why Is the SAT Falling Out of Favor?" The New York Times: May 23, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2020.
- Hubler, Shawn. "University of California Will End Use of SAT and ACT in Admissions." The New York Times: May 21, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2020.
- "Report of the UC Academic Council Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF)," p. 3.
- "Report of the UC Academic Council Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF)," p. 33.
- McGurn, William. "Is the SAT Really the Problem?" The Wall Street Journal: May 25, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2020.