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The (Lack Of) Importance Of The Sat This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   In Princeton Review's "Hit Parader" (its list of the 250 vocabulary words most often used on standardized tests), the definition of "arrogant" is "pompous, ETS-like." I couldn't agree more. The SAT, in my opinion, is one of the most pompous events any teenager in America has to deal with. In a diverse country like ours, I see no place for a test that attempts to judge every single college-bound 17-year-old against his or her peers. The college admissions process, in addition, should not depend on this futile, one-day attempt to estimate a student's "aptitude."

First of all, what aptitude does the SAT measure? While achievement tests and advanced placement tests consist of questions (mostly) pertinent to their subjects, the SAT is a highly specialized test. The verbal section consists of analogies and antonyms, both of which require an extensive knowledge of the vocabulary which the workers for ETS think is important, and reading comprehension, which requires an ability to skim a few paragraphs and remember most of the details. The math section consists of material that the average high school junior either hasn't covered since ninth grade or hasn't covered at all simply because it is unimportant to future mathematical study. In addition, a great deal of the math section involves avoiding clever tricks to mislead the test-taker. If "aptitude" is raw ability (which it is by definition), how can it involve seeing around the ETS's little traps? Granted, the abilities that are measured on the SAT aren't totally worthless, but they are highly specialized, and certainly have nothing to do with "aptitude." A high score on the SAT simply signifies mastery of the specialized subjects included on the SAT.

I will use myself as an example. My scores on the PSAT (a shortened SAT) in tenth grade were 700 math, 490 verbal. Nearly a year later, in preparation for a summer course, I took a sample test. My scores had improved slightly to 720 and 520. After the summer course, an extremely abbreviated version of the Princeton Review which for me involved reading their booklet and doing a half hour of work a night at tops, I took another sample test. My scores: 760 math, 650 verbal. On the eleventh grade PSAT my scores were 800 and 700, and on the SAT my scores were 800 and 680. In other words, a few helpful hints from Princeton Review improved my score from 1190 to 1480 - nearly 300 points. And my improvement was not the highest in my class, either. How can a test claim to be so accurate a measure of intelligence if students' scores can improve so dramatically from just reading a book over the course of three weeks?

I have only touched the surface of the problem with the SAT. Even if the material is too specialized, and can be mastered by learning a few simple tricks, at least the SAT is fair, right? Wrong. It has been proven that white students score consistently higher than black students on the SAT, and that males score consistently higher than females. A large part of this problem may be due to the different way whites and blacks and/or males and females are brought up in our society, but that's another issue altogether.

The major reason for this discrepancy in scores, I suspect, is that white men make up the vast majority of the ETS staff. And let's not forget that students with more money can afford to take courses which can so dramatically improve their scores. They are also the ones who least need good SAT scores, because colleges are always more inclined to take students who don't need financial aid.

So how do we cure these problems that our pressure-filled society has created? We could abolish SAT preparation courses, but that would cause an unnecessary uproar and still won't change the black/white and male/female score differences. We could put more minorities and women on the ETS staff, but that would take years of affirmative action effort, and still won't change the fact that the SAT doesn't measure any sort of worldly intelligence. We could change the material on the SAT to questions that would measure understanding of actual subjects in school, but we already have that with APS and achievement tests. Therefore, the only solution seems to be to get rid of the SAT, and to judge college applicants by their personalities and their work in school. And if that idea sounds revolutionary to you, then maybe you should stop worrying about your SAT scores. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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