The SAT Might Be Worthless (But You Have to Take It Anyway)

Barry Lenson

SAT for college admissionsIt is now six years since Bates College released a groundbreaking study that questioned the value of the SAT test. And Bates was in a good position to conduct the study. Way back in 1984, the college had made the SAT optional for applicants.

Here’s a summary of what Bates reported in 2004 about the SAT, after 20 years of “SAT optional” admissions:

  • Admissions officers had been able to accurately predict the academic level of success for all applying students, whether they had submitted the SAT or not.
  • The difference in graduation rates between students who had submitted the SAT and students who had not was 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent). That’s a statistically insignificant difference.
  • The difference in overall GPAs was .05 (five-hundredths of a GPA point); the exact difference was 3.06 for students who had not submitted the SAT, vs. 3.11 for those who had.
  • In the 20 years since making the SAT optional, Bates had almost doubled the size of its annual applicant pool. In other words, eliminating the SAT requirement had enabled Bates to consider a lot more potential students.

So Why Didn’t the SAT Go Away?

As near as we can tell, here are some of the reasons why tens of thousands of American students still take the SAT every year.

  • Students still want to take the SAT, “just in case.” Students take the test, just to see if they do very well. The idea seems to be, “I’ll get tutored for the test, take the test, and maybe I’ll do well and get an edge when I apply to college.”
  • Colleges need SATs to establish cut-off points in their applicant pools. This is especially true at large state institutions, where the number of applicants has increased drastically over the last three years.

So even though the test might not be a good predictor of anything, it keeps lumbering around like Frankenstein, refusing to die. And who pays the cost for keeping the whole SAT industry alive? Students do, not colleges.

Seems to be yet another instance of making American students pay more and more for things that they don’t really need.

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