By now everyone knows that all applicants need to take the SAT or the ACT to be admitted to college, with the exception of a few colleges that do not require these tests. Ever wonder why some colleges do not require standardized testing? Why are SAT/ACT test averages insanely high at top colleges? What is the purpose of such tests? What’s more important, standardized testing or GPA? This article will hopefully address some of these questions and provide information on “standardized” testing.
A standardized test like the SAT or ACT is a test that is the same for everyone that takes it. It requires all the test takers to answer the same questions and it is scored in a scaled, or consistent, manner. Even the essay portion of the tests are graded in a consistent manner with a standard rubric, so it is very easy to find a formula for success in these essays. SparkNotes has a great guide to finding this formula.
The purpose of standardized testing is so that colleges can easily compare the performance of students. Of course, by weighing standardized testing scores heavily, colleges will be defining students by their test score and dehumanizing them into a number. Luckily, most colleges are not so restricting and take a rather “holistic” approach when reviewing applications. This holistic approach is, however, very hard to believe when looking at test averages of top colleges. These test averages make it seem that applicants need to have a 2000+ SAT or 30+ ACT to be admitted. Although this is not entirely true, the majority of admitted students do have such high scores. If you want to be competitive, then getting a high score is necessary, but it is not impossible to get in without the highest scores. In an ideal world, this number would represent your aptitude for colleges, but most colleges know that this is not entirely true.
Most colleges evaluate your application relative to your background. Let’s take a look at a decision a college admission officer might have to make. Student A is an upper class, privileged student at a top 10% high school and managed a 2200 in his SAT through private tutoring sessions. Student B is a low-income, first-generation minority from a very disadvantaged background who also managed a 2200 in his SAT without private tutoring. Although both of these students received a 2200, it is clear that these 2200’s are extremely different from each other. This is because these scores came from people of different backgrounds, and the 2200 from the disadvantaged student is clearly more impressive. It is as if he has 100 pounds of weight on his ankles and still tied with student A in a race. There are, of course, many other aspects colleges take into consideration – such as GPA and extracurricular activities – and all of this is also reviewed with consideration to the opportunities offered to each student.
Standardized testing do not just stop with college admissions. They are a very important factor for graduate school admissions. In many cases, graduate schools value standardized testing much more than colleges do. Medical schools, for example, give the most weightage to your GPA and MCAT scores. This is because the MCAT is a good measure of your science knowledge, and with the new changes, a good measure of your social knowledge as well. With all the differences in rigor across schools, the MCAT is necessary to give a fuller picture of the applicant as grades can be deceiving. The MCAT is more open than the SAT in that regard.
Because the SAT/ACT is standardized, there is a formula to success. I strongly believe the best way to study for standardized tests is through taking official practice tests from the makers of these tests and studying your mistakes. Because the test does not change very much from year to year, practice tests are very similar to the real exam. Most tests just replace the numbers for math problems and the stories for reading problems, but the basic concepts tested remain the same, which is why studying past problems from the test makers is the best method for success. Wherever on the spectrum you fall, do not be discouraged and keep practicing. I started with a 1520 PSAT my junior year and worked my way up to a 33 ACT. Nothing is impossible if you really want it!