COMMENTARY | Every year millions of high school students take the SAT and ACT standardized aptitude tests, hoping to receive high scores that will help them gain admission to the colleges and universities of their dreams. Historically, these standardized test scores have been widely accepted as valid indicators of students’ academic aptitude and knowledge base, adequately predicting which students are more likely to succeed at various levels of academic rigor. Now, however, a new study questions whether these two iconic tests are actually valid predictors of college success: According to CBS, a study conducted at 33 colleges and universities that do not require SAT or ACT scores found “virtually no” difference in college preparation and graduation rates between students who did submit scores and students who did not.
William Hiss, the study’s main author, claimed that the SAT and ACT exams were primarily “speed processing” tests instead of genuine intelligence tests.
Before Americans, and particularly American teenagers, go gaga over the idea of life without needing the dreaded SAT or ACT exams, they should be reminded that correlation does not mean causation. Just because college graduation rates between test score submitters and non-submitters is nearly identical does not mean that the two groups have similar academic aptitude. Rather, it could simply mean that rampant grade inflation allows almost everyone to graduate. This could be especially true at the liberal arts colleges included in the study.
Both colleges and students should avoid being fooled by this misleading study. Students who score highly on SAT and ACT exams may indeed have an easier time earning good grades and achieving academic success, while students who score poorly may struggle and rely heavily on grade inflation. Allowing students to enter universities en masse without relying on SAT or ACT scores could prove to be a nightmare: Masses of students would quickly risk flunking out and, in desperation to keep their statistics appealing, the schools would resort to unethical grade inflation. Such grade inflation would become entrenched and further erode America’s educational prowess.
Furthermore, eschewing the SAT and ACT exams as valid college application tools would place many students at a distinct disadvantage, especially poor students. Wealthy slackers with high GPAs from private schools would be unfairly advantaged with stellar, completely subjective resumes while impoverished students with high test scores but low GPAs due to lack of available study time and home support would struggle to get into college. For better or worse, the SAT and ACT exams are still good sorting mechanisms for braininess.
Despite all the existing complaints with standardized aptitude exams like the SAT and ACT, such tests are far more objective and valid than high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and resumes. Those most advantaged in society cannot simply buy a high SAT score, but they can buy a stellar resume and manipulate their way to an attractive high school transcript. Sadly, those most disadvantaged in society may be only able to rely on achieving a high SAT score. They have neither the study time, support, nor social connections to build a good resume or earn a top-notch high school transcript.
Despite the hubbub, the tests should remain a permanent fixture.