SAT Revamp Is A Good First Step


Kirstin Bunkley/The Observer


Kirstin Bunkley/The Observer
Kirstin Bunkley/The Observer

As I entered my freshman year of college this past fall, I was startled to realize that the SATs were going to be just as awkward and fraught a topic as they had been during high school. The competition never quite fades away: SAT scores become a marker for your intelligence and for how well you will fare in the rat race of college acceptances I’ve known many friends who felt gutted after receiving scores below the sacred 2400 mark, convinced they would never get into the college of their dreams. Of course, common knowledge states that SAT scores don’t actually say anything about your intelligence. So, the question arises: What exactly do the SATs tell us, if anything at all?

David Coleman, the president of College Board, announced in March that by 2016, the current version of the SAT—with math, reading and writing sections and a total possible score of 2400—will be no more. Acknowledging the faults of an often-criticized standardized test, Coleman admitted that the SAT, as well as the ACT, had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” The new SAT will decidedly test on less math topics than we were subject to, change the infamously impenetrable vocabulary section to include more words used in college curricula and, most importantly, make the essay optional.

Many have argued about the relevance of the essay since its addition to the test in 2005. Some colleges do not look at them at all, saying that expecting a well-crafted essay in 25 minutes is unrealistic; however, more competitive schools compare them with the essay for the Common Application to determine the originality and authenticity of the personal statement. While the guidelines for the SAT state that the essay is not held to the same standards as, say, a research paper that was crafted over months, many colleges have no interest in reading a rough draft, unless they plan to use it comparatively. Therefore, the relative usefulness of the essay is arguable considering that it can have great weight over one’s overall score. By making the essay optional and the test more decipherable, Coleman hopes to change the culture surrounding the SATs.

Perhaps College Board is trying to avoid its decline into irrelevancy by acknowledging the faults of the SAT and staying on trend with current education. However, in making the exam more accessible, there’s a chance it will lose its position as the ‘Holy Grail’ of college application stressors. Already, students have flocked to the ACT, as it provides a simpler, less writing-heavy alternative. But what niche will the SAT be filling now? It could be argued that the success and popularity of the SAT were based around the obsession our culture has had with tackling the impossible. By making the SAT more accessible, it may fade away into the ether.

Additionally, one could argue that it’s an insurmountable task to “stay on trend with current education,” because, as Coleman himself admitted, there is no single type of education that dominates across the board. While the Common Core, which is accepted by 45 states, has attempted to create equanimity in education quality, each public school has its own system and curriculum. A public school, depending a great deal on its tax base, can range from competitive and prestigious to one having a 15 percent graduation rate and mostly incompetent teachers. Furthermore, not all SAT-takers are public school students; I myself attended a private religious school, which took a holistic approach to their curriculum. Would the SAT truly show where I comparatively factor in? I could have had an entirely different education from someone who statistically ranked higher in academics; yet, here I am at Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC), doing just fine. This flawed view of encouraging a blanket type of academic success and ignoring those who do not meet certain criteria permeates not just the SATs but the entire college application process.

I hope that this revamping of the SAT creates a change in how college admissions as a whole are done in the United States. We need a more holistic perspective on the diversity of education throughout the US. On a basic level, it seems like revamping the SATs removes a competitive element of college admissions; but unfortunately, the entire process is riddled with pitfalls that are nearly impossible to navigate. It’s a luck of the draw more than anything else that earns one admission to competitive schools. Once intelligence and hard work truly become what merit admission to colleges and universities instead of arbitrary SAT scores or the appropriate number of extracurricular activities, there will no longer be a need to evaluate the SATs because we will have moved on from them. Until then, this is as good as it’s going to get.