A Necessary Evil: College Entrance Exams
Originally written March 28 2007
By Shaney Lee
A common question asked of all high school students is “What are your plans for college?” The answers will be as diverse as the people you ask. Some people will plan to go to a junior or community college, others will want to go to a technical or trade school. Some will plan to join the military, still others will enter straight into the workforce. The vast majority, however, will plan to go to a four-year college. And those who do will have to make many decisions about how to get there. One common decision for all those who want to enter four-year colleges is, “What tests need to be taken to get in?” Although each college has its own policies, every four-year college will require at least one of the following: the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT, formerly known as the SAT I), the American College Test (ACT), and/or the SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as the SAT II’s).
The SAT claims to test “the critical thinking skills you’ll need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems” (The College Board, “SAT Reasoning Test”); however, many people are very skeptical as to whether the SAT really does that. Some people even question whether the SAT does anything useful at all. In fact, the Princeton Review says “[The SAT] continues to be a negative force in education” and claims that the SAT “doesn’t measure anything”, “underpredicts the college performance of women, minorities, and disadvantages students”, and “is coachable in all the worst ways”. (“11 Practice Tests for the New SAT and PSAT”, vii) The plethora of material claiming to boost SAT scores backs
The ACT is often lumped with the SAT. It is rare to see the ACT being talked about in a context separate from the SAT. For example, if one opens up any teen magazine to an article about testing, the title will most likely read something along the lines of, “Tips For the 24 Hours Prior to Taking the SAT or the ACT” (Stephens 17) The ACT, however, is actually quite different from the SAT, as it claims: “The ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. Instead, the questions on the ACT are directly related to what students have learned in high school courses in English, mathematics, and science.” (ACT, Inc. “Facts about the ACT”, par. 23) Unlike the SAT, the ACT attempts to test knowledge rather than reasoning ability. However, testing knowledge does not guarantee good grades in college, so whether or not the ACT can accurately predict college success is debatable, just as it is with the SAT. It is not necessarily “better” to take either one; almost all colleges accept either test (Brody, par. 3; Greenstein, par. 9). As with the SAT, students should check the policies of the specific college(s) they plan to apply to. If the colleges accept both exams equally, or if the student is not sure where they plan to apply, it is probably in the student’s best interests to take both tests. “A lot of overlap exists between the exams, and at least attempting both of them may give you the best shot of getting the score that you need,” (Brody, par. 4) It is a rare college that doesn’t require at least one of the two tests for admission, and the more competitive colleges take these scores seriously.
Students applying to more competitive colleges may also need to take one or more SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as the SAT II’s). “[SAT Subject Tests] are designed to measure your knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge.” (The College Board, “About the SAT Subject Tests”, par. 1) “[SAT Subject Tests] are knowledge-based tests, similar to most school finals” (Greenstein, par. 3) In the past, the Subject Tests were used for the same purpose that AP (Advanced Placement) tests are used today; today, some colleges require Subject Tests for admission to the school, “typically the ‘top 100’ scrutinize SAT Subject Test scores” (par. 2) Policies on SAT Subject Tests vary even more widely among colleges than policies on the SAT and ACT. Students should check with the colleges they are applying with to see if the schools require SAT Subject Test scores, or use them for advanced placement. Unlike the SAT, Subject Tests do not require extensive preparation (par. 3); however, there is no good reason to take them if the college(s) a student is applying to don’t ask for them.
Almost all high school students will have to take the SAT or ACT; only a few will need to take the SAT Subject Tests. Each test has its good and bad points, and it is not necessarily “better” to take one in addition to or instead of another. The main factor in choosing which tests to take will be the policies at the college or colleges to which a student is planning to apply. What may be best for one person may be totally different from what is best for the next. In making the decision of which standardized tests to take, a student should always check the policies of the colleges that he/she plans to apply to, and talk to parents, teachers, and mentors. In the end, success in college cannot be measured by these tests; success in college will depend on the dedication of the student.
“About the SAT Subject Tests”. College Board website. College Board. 27 March 2007. http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATII.html?print=true
Brody, Jay. “Act or SAT-How to Choose Between the SAT and the ACT?”. About. 2007. New York Times Company. 19 March 2007. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/satandotherexams/f/actorsat.htm
Greenstein, Mark. “SAT, PSAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test-A Primer for Beginners”. Ivy Bound Test Prep. Ivy Bound. 19 March 2007. http://www.ivybound.net/MDprimer.html
“SAT Reasoning Test”. College Board website. College Board. 27 March 2007. http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATI.html
Stephens, Teresa. “Tips for the 24 Hours Prior to Taking the SAT or ACT.” Brio & Beyond. Volume V. Apr. 2006: 17
[Update: Shaney has a blogspot you check out. Or, actually, two.]