To Test or Not to Test?

SAT test prep paid off. Got into college of my choice
To SAT or not to SAT?

Once again, juniors herald the season of SATs with much dread. During the COVID years, many colleges, including Ivy’s, waived the submission of SAT scores; however, this year (2024-2025), the SAT will be a requisite for all applicants. (Please note: some colleges still do not require SAT scores.) Nonetheless, most students know that to compete with other applicants and gain admission into top-tier schools, they need to ace this test. 

            According to the College Board Office of Research and Development, the SAT provides colleges with “a standardized and objective assessment of skill level, independent of a particular textbook or method of instruction, and irrespective of the school that the student attended or that school’s grading standards.”  

            An article in Forbes magazine suggests that this reinstatement is because colleges believe that “SAT scores predict first-year college grades and help admissions officers evaluate a student in context.”  Indeed, many of the presidents of Ivy League colleges stand in-line with this belief that SAT assessments are a solid indicator of student success in rigorous academic curriculums.

For some years now, the SATI test has brewed contentious controversy because many critics question the test’s validity as a measure of future success in college. Opponents disparage the test because they believe students who attend preparatory classes to improve their scores gain an edge over their competitors only because they are wealthier and can afford to pay for these classes.  While it is true that students can raise their scores by attending test-prep classes (we have had students raise their scores anywhere from 200-400 points through our SAT Prep sessions), the viewpoint is also incorrect since it does not take into account that success for any student after attending any prep-class is attainable only if a student makes a determined effort to work toward a desired score.  Attending an SAT prep class may make the student familiar with the test and thus more comfortable. However, it will not necessarily help the student gain points if the student does not put in a concerted effort to learn and to take practice tests.  This, in turn, results in positive extended learning outside school.

Many others champion the merits of a standardized test such as the SATI.  These people believe that such a test is fair since it serves as a uniform standard by which to judge high school students, especially since there is no consistent benchmark for grading high schools. The question arises: what tools should be used to assess students and evaluate whether an “A” grade student from one school is similar academically to an “A” grade student from another school?  Many times, teacher personalities and how grades are determined at each school differ vastly and can affect the end-year grade for students. Moreover, there are research studies that highlight that some “A” grade high school students find it challenging to handle academic pressure at top-tier schools because the grading system at their high school is liberal.  Sometime ago, the University of Toronto revealed that some incoming students who projected confidence in achieving at least a 3.6 grade point average at UT failed to do so.  Such students may have been top of the class at their high school but failed to repeat this performance because college academic rigor demands prioritizing, independent learning, and time management, which some students fail to take in consideration and, consequently, fall below their projected success.   Thus, an effective standardized test is imperative because it allows colleges to distinguish the academic caliber of various students applying from varied high schools. 

Other than the SATs, students can also choose to study AP courses and take the AP exams to exhibit strength in singular subjects. AP Tests are based on the premise that college-level material can be taught to and understood by high school students.  According to the College Board Fact sheet on AP tests, high school students can take advantage of 37 AP Exams in 22 different subject areas.  Students take AP courses and take the exam each May.  If students achieve a high 4 or 5 (and in some cases a 3), they can attain college credit for the course, which means they can save money since they do not need to repeat the course at the college level—for instance, taking the AP Biology and AP Chemistry test and scoring high means that most colleges will allow students to skip the introductory Biology/chemistry courses in college and move on to the next level. I know of students who take enough AP tests to qualify as sophomores in college. Also, taking AP-level courses and doing well in them strengthens a student’s final transcript and allows them to stand out during the admissions process.

Although taking exams to qualify for admissions and college-course placement may seem overwhelming, each assessment has merit. The key to doing well on any test is to study throughout the year rather than waiting for a week or two before taking the examination. If a student prepares each day as if the test were around the corner, then there will be less anxiety and a reduced amount of stress, all of which will be reflected in high grades and a better overall GPA.   

Attiya Chaudary is an SAT English Instructor and College Counsellor at NCAS Learning Center.