The SATs. Just the mention of that three letter term (it is no longer an acronym) sends shivers up and down my spine. For most people, talking about the test evokes terrible memories of a difficult time in high school that have been tucked away, unsuccessfully, into oblivion. With so many people having taken it, there are a handful of discernable SAT archetypes that I have identified:
- The Overachiever: Preparing since the womb, this stressed individual carries vocabulary flashcards in one hand, and an SAT review book in the other.
- The Oblivious One: There is always that one person who forgets something vital the day of the test, such as a calculator or a #2 pencil. While fellow test takers shower this person with sympathy, they secretly think, ”At least it did not happen to me!”
- The Underdog: Completely under the radar, this person surprises everyone by doing well. Diligence and/or tutoring helps.
- The Braggart: The one who goes around and makes sure that everyone knows his/her impressive score.
- The Hated One: The person who barely puts any effort into studying, and gets the highest score. In the ensuing weeks, admirers swarm him/her, while secretly spewing venomous hateful comments in sheer jealously.
- The Holy Grail: Someone who manages to balance studying and relaxing, and ultimately succeeds on the test without compromising their sanity. Disclaimer: this individual does not exist.
The SAT plays a crucial role in our society by contributing stress to high school juniors as well as to the overall college application process. Recently, College Board announced that it would be implementing several changes to this standardized test. Though ostensibly innocuous, these changes reflect the true nature of the SAT. This test is not a way to gauge the intellectual capabilities of students; rather, is a money-making scheme.
Significant changes have not been made to the SAT since 2005, when the highest composite score was raised to 2400 from 1600 due to the addition of the essay section. Now the scores will return to being out of 1600. The optional essay will be focused more on expressing experiences and opinions, rather than answering prompts. So much for using the tried and true formula of using one literary and one historical example as support-Atticus Finch and the Civil War never let me down. Words deemed too obsolete will also be replaced with jargon more often used in college. Additionally, math concepts will be more focused, with some sections not allowing the use of a calculator. My jaw dropped, though, when I discovered that there would no longer be a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers. This is not the SAT that I had come to hate.
Why is it that the College Board decided to make such drastic changes? College Board is echoing arguments that teachers have been making for years: the SAT is disconnected with the work of high schools. Many of the words that students memorize, not learn, for the SAT are neither used in the classroom nor are part of everyday vernacular. In the math section, questions are often characterized as being “SAT” in nature, and never actually covered in a school curriculum.
In reality, though, I think College Board is trying to make the SAT more attractive because it recognizes that the ACT is a serious threat. While the SAT costs $51 to take and penalizes for the wrong answer, the ACT is $50.50 and allows for guessing without penalty. With people finding the ACT to be more manageable, as well as colleges now accepting it as a substitute for the SAT, more students are registering for this exam instead. College Board now sees that where it once held a firm monopoly, it now faces legitimate competition. Seeing that its current testing policy was unpopular, College Board, like any company desperate to reverse a downward spiral, decided to spice things up.
Of course, everything about the SAT is about making money; the registration fee is simply icing on the cake. There are pricy “new” SAT books that must be updated every year. Once you have the books, you must also hire a tutor. The SAT is notorious for not testing intelligence, but rather for testing the ability to take the SAT-a skill that no teacher can ever impart to a student. (When I volunteered as an SAT math tutor, people could not fathom why I would give up the change to do the exact same thing, except for at least $80 an hour-the starting rate for a novice SAT tutor.) Clearly, this puts underprivileged kids at a disadvantage when they do not have the financial means to gain access to unlocking the code to conquering the SAT. Furthermore, by giving the option of score choice, College Board is favoring students who can afford to take the test multiple times. Also, did I mention that there are fees for sending SAT scores to colleges? By the end of the entire SAT process, parents can easily fork down $3000. Is $1000 a letter really worth it?
Ultimately, there is a fundamental issue with the SAT as well as the ACT. Why is it that a significant determinant for most Americans to get accepted into college is a test compiled by 2 private companies? College Board feigns sympathy for the test takers by having a Question of the Day, but in reality, it exploits them. Perhaps having a government mandated test, rather than one made by an arbitrarily powerful one, would fairer? New York City has regents, why can’t there be a national version of this?