The recent negative publicity that the SAT has received once again exposed College Board’s inability to provide students and colleges with both a perfect test environment and a reliable measurement tool. This is nothing new. It just received a lot of publicity this time. After the story broke, my wife asked me why the colleges don’t offer their own entrance exams. My response was that despite having more than fifty years to come up with an alternative, they have done nothing. Sadly–and I say this as a parent–I don’t think it will ever change.
Colleges simply do not have the resources to give your child’s application the review time that it deserves. As a result, they are dependent on two numbers: GPA and test scores. One would hope that GPA is a reasonable measure of a student’s academic accomplishments, although high schools are unfortunately not immune to the grade inflation frenzy that has pervaded college campuses. Consequently, unless your child is applying to a small college, his or her standardized test scores continue to be extremely important. Many colleges, especially those offering rolling admission, offer immediate acceptance upon on-line submission of an application automatically linked to a student’s transcripts and test scores.
While many students, parents, and professional “experts” mistake the importance of the SAT and ACT as proof that the tests are intelligence tests, college admissions officers know this is not true. It is simply a quick and easy way for them to quantitatively compare applicants.
At the risk of offending every psychology major who has ever worked for a standardized test maker, I will tell you what I have told every one of my SAT students that I have tutored over the last 25 years. The SAT tests you on how good you are at taking the SAT. The ACT tests you at how good you are at taking the ACT.
A poor test score has more to do with preparation and performance than anything else. It is important for students and parents to be constantly reminded of this fact.
I will never forget the afternoon that I showed up for my first tutoring session with a new student. I pulled into her driveway and her mom came out to greet me. Mom did not look very happy. In fact, she had the anguished look that any parent of a teenager would recognize.
Her daughter was in her bedroom hysterically crying and was refusing to join me in her kitchen for her first tutoring session. My first thoughts were that something must have upset her at school that day. I have had tutoring sessions canceled for many creative emotional reasons, but this wasn’t just the usual breakup or loss in a big game. This was, at least for this student, much bigger; she had just gotten her PSAT scores and was convinced that she was stupid. I think mom and I both wanted to cry along with her.
Sometimes I wonder if I am a tutor or a therapist. I may not have succeeded that day, but I have performed interventions for many students–and parents–to convince them that poor scores mean nothing. Once students and parents understand that, we can work together to tackle the challenge that lies ahead.