When colleges and universities must make admissions decisions, the people making those decisions look primarily at a student’s GPA to determine whether the student would be a good fit academically for the school. But how can they know that two students from different schools with the same GPA actually perform equally well? Or that a student with a lower GPA perhaps would have done better if she had anticipated in fewer extracurricular activities?
This is where an applicant’s supplementary materials, his essays, recommendations and standardized test scores, can speak for his ability. Because of this, colleges and universities often require the SAT or other standardized tests as an unbiased measure of a student’s academic ability and probable success in college.
First, the SAT offers a level playing field for applicants from different schools. As all students no doubt realize, comparing grades from two different classes can be like comparing apples and oranges. The subject, the class time, the teacher and course designation (such as an AP or honors class) can affect the difficulty of any class. Because of this, it’s not always accurate to compare students taking the same course at the same school but in different classes, and the inaccuracy only increase as students are compared from different schools, states and even countries. Therefore, the SAT and other standardized tests provide a means for schools to accurately compare students by controlling for these differences. While it’s not a perfect system, since good students often struggle with the SAT, it does give colleges a different measure by which to compare two students with the same GPA.
Second, the SAT gives a snapshot of a student’s college readiness in three major skill sets – math, reading and writing. While students will not necessarily focus on these in their studies, they each play a critical role in college and in life. Therefore, it behooves colleges to ensure that the math savant can write a good essay, and the budding historian can pass his required algebra course. Though SAT prep programs like Victory Step can aid a student in honing these skills for the test, a student’s entire academic career lays the foundations for each of these skills. While math, reading and writing are by no means the only skills necessary for success in college, they are strong indicators of whether a student can succeed in a university, given the rigorousness of its programs.
Finally, the SAT tests the critical thinking abilities necessary for all areas of study in college, from the liberal arts to astrophysics. Once accepted by Mensa and other high IQ societies as a qualifying exam, the SAT does indeed test a student’s ability to think through certain types of problems critically rather than simply regurgitating information. As any Victory Step graduate knows, the test keeps students on their feet by asking simple questions in a convoluted manner. They must think through every question to ensure that they are answering the correct question, not just the one their years of school have trained them to answer. Because of this, SAT results can portend success in any educational field, not just those directly tested.
Given this, it seems easy to see why colleges and universities turn to the SAT in making tough admissions decisions. It gives the admissions board another way of assessing students from widely varying backgrounds, and it demonstrates to some extent a student’s probability of success in college. While it is never the be-all and end-all factor in a college application, a good SAT score can bolster a student’s chances of acceptance into almost any university.