It might be hard to understand why the SAT and ACT test students on reading skills. Math is practical for lots of careers, and it’s important to know proper grammar and syntax, but why do standardized tests bother with having you read passages and answer questions about them?
As it turns out, strong reading skills matter more than a lot of people realize. A 2020 study by Gallup found that a shocking 54% of adults in the United States can’t read at a sixth-grade level. Over half of American adults would probably have trouble reading A Wrinkle in Time or the Percy Jackson series. If you’re a high school junior or senior who’s had to read hundreds of pages of challenging literature, that might seem incredible, but as someone who was a bookworm from a young age, it’s easy to take for granted how hard reading can be for some people.
Even then, though, why does it matter? After all, most jobs don’t require you to do book reports. While that’s true, a firm grasp on the fundamentals of reading—identifying the author’s purpose, understanding vocabulary, making inferences based on text—makes a huge difference in peoples’ lives. The Gallup study found that:
- When ranking literacy along the lines of five levels, with Level 5 being highly literate and Level 1 being nearly illiterate, adults at or below Level 1 had an average income of just $34,000 per year.
- Adults at Level 3, or average literacy, had a mean annual income of $63,000—so the difference between low and average literacy means a difference of $24,000 in income.
- Following those findings, getting every adult in the country to Level 3 would add more than $2 trillion yearly to the U.S. economy, or about 10% of the current gross GDP.
Simply put, the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills that standardized tests measure are crucial tools for any adult—and for that matter, any high schooler, because they pave the way for better careers and happier lives. Even if you’re not much of a reader, do your best to cultivate those skills, because they’ll serve you well in life after graduation.