The daunting prospect of the SATs hangs over every student’s head as they make their way through high school. PSATs are first administered sophomore year, and again in the fall of junior year. After surviving these two taxing practice tests, it is finally time for the real test in the spring of junior year. This one test shows students’ ability, dedication, and level of intelligence, and will be used by colleges and universities to judge their value. I would argue though, that standardized test scores are the last thing that should be used to determine students’ ability.
Most students take the SATs once or twice, and there are many factors that can affect performance on these one or two highly intense, stressful days. Many students suffer from test anxiety because of the intensity of the test. They can become so anxious or even sick that it greatly hinders their ability to do well. I personally did not suffer from test anxiety, but I had trouble with time. I seldom was able to finish a section in the allotted time. I am a fairly slow reader, and I like to have time to think things over or work through a problem. The short amounts of time given for each section on the SATs did not allow me to do this, so I found myself rushing through each section, feeling unsure of many of my answers. Because of this, and other factors, I do not feel that my SAT scores are a correct indicator of my ability.
I worked very hard throughout high school. I got good grades and I was highly ranked in my class. Despite this, my SAT scores were low for many of the schools I looked at. This was a bit discouraging. It felt quite unfair that all of the hard work I had done for the last four years could mean nothing because of my performance on one test. I worked hard taking practice tests in hopes that my scores would go up the second time I took the SATs. My scores were all over the place. Sometimes I would do a lot better on one section but my scores on the other sections would go down. Despite the many practice tests I took there seemed to be no theme among my scores and there was definitely no consistent improvement. To me, this inconsistency should be a clear sign that the SATs do not work.
Although there are some students who perform well on the SATs and may feel that their scores accurately represent them, there are many that share my opinion of these standardized tests. One blogger wrote, “There is no actual way to standardize anything, because there are many extraneous factors that affect standardization.” I completely agree with this. One factor that has a significant impact is socio-economic status. Students who come from wealthier backgrounds generally perform better on SATs. One study found that, “thirty-two percent of students from a high socio-economic background earned a score of 1100 or greater on the SAT, while only 9 percent of students from a low socio-economic status achieved the same score.” This just proves how unstandardized this test really is. Students who come from wealthy families can afford to take the test multiple times in addition to getting tutors and SAT prep books. This gives them a huge, unfair advantage over students with a lower socio-economic status.
Another factor that can affect test scores, which I have learned about in multiple psychology and sociology classes, is the stereotype threat. Negative stereotypes against a group of people can actually have a negative impact on performance when they are aware of the stereotype. For example, women are supposedly bad at math. Going into the SATs, a female student who is aware of this stereotype may actually conform and do poorly on the math section. A study done at Stanford found that stereotype threat generally lowers women’s math scores by 20 points. In addition, it was found that black and Hispanic students, who stereotypically do not do well on tests, “underperform on the SATs by about 40 points.” Again, this shows that SATs do not accurately assess ability.
In addition to the unequal advantages that SATs give some students, SAT prep takes up lots of valuable time. Students spend hours memorizing vocabulary, practicing SAT math, and speedily analyzing passages. These skills will likely never be used again, and the time spent perfecting these skills could be used on learning and having experiences that will actually be useful in life. Teachers often take time out of class to spend prepping for SATs, and many students also take time away from their studies to do the same. This time should be spent actively participating in classroom activities, and studying material that facilitates learning in class. One blogger, who taught for many years, speaks to this issue, “It was not quality teaching…It was quality cramming, quality revision, quality short cuts, quality squeeze – get them to a certain standard of ‘test taking’ by a certain date and all will be well with the world.” Even teachers can recognize that the SATs do not promote quality education. In my eyes, this is a serious problem and action must be taken.
Some colleges and universities have begun to put less stock in SATs scores, and some have even stopped requiring students to send them. This is a good start, but it is not enough. Every year students’ dreams are taken from them because of their performance on one single, stressful test. Every student, no matter what their background, race, gender, or ethnicity, has a right to the education they deserve, and the SATs are taking this right away.