Are the SATs Too Outdated for 2023?
March 6, 2023
The SATs have been a standard component of the college admissions process for almost a century. Though the test has changed in nature over the years (such as the elimination of a written essay and revised scoring system), its premise remains the same: through a series of math, grammar, and reading multiple-choice questions, hopeful college applicants will evidently prove their intelligence to a higher-level institution.
But, will they? With several universities changing their testing policies, a nationwide debate over its socio-economic fairness, and the rising question as to whether or not the tests are an accurate measure of acuity, the SATs’ future role in the college admissions process looks to be uncertain.
A test-optional policy gives applicants the choice to submit their scores based on what they deem to be their best chance of acceptance. A test-blind policy exempts all students from submitting scores, and the college simply chooses not to include them in their holistic review of the applicant. While almost all universities required an SAT score from prospective students in the past, many have recently changed this protocol to one of the aforementioned options.
Iris Godes, the Dean of Admissions at Dean College in Franklin, attributes this to the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other factors, the pandemic seems to have caused colleges to reassess their priorities when deciding if a particular student will be a good fit for their institution.
“If the whole COVID experience taught schools that were requiring SATs anything, it pushed them in the direction of looking at the admissions process differently,” says Godes. “It’s a difficult process…with a lot of pressure, but students are more than just numbers and letters on a transcript. It really forced those schools to holistically learn about their students above and beyond their test scores.”
When polled, 70 percent of current Franklin High School students did not use their scores on a majority of their applications, and 63 percent of students attested that all schools should be test-blind. This would never have been possible pre-pandemic and boosted many students’ chances of getting into the more selective schools of their choice.
Furthermore, one could argue that the SATs are discriminatory against students of lower-income families. Countless expenses go into the creation of a good SAT score: Tutoring, prep courses, a $60 testing fee (which accumulates tremendously if being taken multiple times), and of course the hours of time students spend in preparation for the exam.
Created in 1926, the SATs were originally tailored to the types of students that had access to the financial and social requirements of attending higher-level institutions. In the diverse world of 2023, these standards have changed – but the basis of the tests themselves have not.
“How do we make it fair for everybody when that test was created with an expectation of, ‘these students are white, affluent, and have a particular type of education experience’,’’ says Godes. “That is now not the case when you look at circumstances across the country, which is for the best. That’s how you grow and develop as someone going into the work world.”
This is not to say that students of more privileged backgrounds do not deserve the scores they receive. However, this issue spans deeper than the financial situation itself into the reality that some students might simply be poor test takers, regardless of the number of resources they receive.
85 percent of students polled say that they do not believe that the SATs are an accurate representation of their intellectual abilities. Does a student with a 4.0 GPA and extensive extracurricular activities due to their work ethic deserve to have their worth confined to a 2-hour test?
“I didn’t submit my SAT scores to a lot of schools because I don’t think that those tests are a good reflection of who I am as a person or as a student,” says senior Northeastern commit Julia Missagia.
One hypothesis as to why the SATs have remained relevant despite pushback is because of the sheer competitiveness of modern college applicants. The most selective institutions in the country require hundreds of community service hours, a stellar transcript, and a diverse range of activities. For many, the systemic nature of SAT tests is just one more checked-off box.
However, with so much time being spent on the perfect application, it’s easy for other critical skills to become stunted – skills that don’t come from studying.
I don’t think that those tests are a good reflection of who I am as a person or as a student.
— Julia Missagia
“Some students don’t have appropriate social skills, they don’t know how to live with downtime, and they don’t know how to communicate appropriately. All of that is really important,” says Godes. “There are skills you gain just by being a normal kid, such as being conversational and learning how to network.”
An applicant’s personality is just as important as their numbers, which is where the Common Application and school-specific supplemental essays come in. “I want to know, ‘who are we bringing into this community’, Godes explains. “I prefer reading essays [over looking at SAT scores] because they tell more of a story.”
Still, there are undeniable advantages to the SATs. For large, public, schools that receive hundreds of thousands of applications each year, testing provides an easy way to categorize students instantaneously. For some students, it also helps set them apart from other applicants. While testing provides a layer of practicality to the college admissions process, is it worth the countless disadvantages?
Only time will tell if the SATs remain a piece of the admissions process in the coming years. For all of its faults, no new solution has been put forth to fill the gap of looking at students under a standardized microscope. However, it’s important to take into consideration the test’s shortcomings when it comes to viewing an applicant as a person rather than a number.