There have been a lot of problems attributed to the SAT, arguably the most important college entrance exam in the country.
The test has been criticised for favouring wealthy, male students. It has also been shown to be a poor indicator of a student’s success in and after college.
So why do schools keep using them?
“Overrelaiance” on SAT scores, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, “can be traced both to elite institutions’ efforts to maintain high average test scores to preserve their rankings, as well as to admissions file readers’ subconscious judgement process.”
As the study notes, an institution’s status and prestige is often tied to their selectivity, which is easy to track by creating a competitive admissions process that favours higher test scores. Additionally, outside rankings — many of which, like the U.S. News and World Report’s college list, heavily weigh SAT scores — also serve to boost a college’s prestige.
“Magazine rankings serve as the major catalyst driving the focus on increasing standardized testing scores,” according to the study.
This emphasis on status can often have a negative impact on the equality of admissions standards, according to the study — “The pursuit of prestige indirectly limits access for women and other underrepresented groups by emphasising an admissions criterion that ‘further privilege[s] the already advantaged.'”
The study reports that “SAT scores’ undue importance is also a micro-level problem,” citing the trend towards highly qualified students applying to a increasingly large number of schools in order to “maximise their enrollment choices.” As colleges see more and more applicants, admissions officers need clear and efficient ways to determine which students they should accept.
“Test scores, unlike the rest of the [applicant’s] file, may seem quantified, decontextualized, and unambiguous, and thus have a disproportionate influence on the final admissions decision,” according to the study.
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