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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: SAT isn’t measuring true ability, excellence

Think back to your college applications. Whether they were last year or five years ago, you probably took and stressed out over the ACT or SAT, hoping that high scores on these tests would give you an edge in getting into your top-choice college. 

But if you’re an immigrant to the United States or from a particularly low-income family, standardized test scores could actually be scary and potentially damaging for college acceptance. Luckily, for applicants at the UA, this is no longer a problem.

There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not the ACT and SAT are still useful predictors of a student’s success in the college classroom. The best way to understand the correlation would be by comparing a student’s SAT score to their college freshman year GPA. According to ABC News, studies show that only 10 to 20 percent of the variability of GPA in students is explained by test scores. This implies that the other 80 to 90 percent of a student’s GPA is explained by factors outside of these tests.

Such a small amount of variability is based on tests that can be seriously affected by something as small as a bad night’s sleep. It seems counterintuitive that universities would place so much emphasis on these exams.

However, the effect that the SAT and ACT have on students who are poor or from families where English is not regularly spoken is more impactful, putting these students at a severe disadvantage.

The SAT tests for vocabulary tend to be obscure and strange even for native English speakers. The Atlantic writes that children who grow up in poverty tend to suffer in language skills, especially when their family speaks a language other than English at home. This is a virtual death sentence on the SAT — and often on college admissions, even if these students work hard in the classroom and earn good grades.

According to The Atlantic, colleges use SAT requirements as ways to portray themselves as “selective” colleges, garnering reputations that will attract wealthier children who can pay for college without financial aid.

However, wealthier kids also have access to expensive test preparatory materials and tutoring that aren’t an option for poor families. This cycle is why prestigious universities are so often full of wealthy white kids whose parents went to college: They need high scores to get to the schools, and they can effectively afford to pay for those necessary scores.

However, not all hope is lost for poor children who worked hard in school but couldn’t manage to pay for their SAT tutors and ACT classes. Many schools, the UA and Arizona State University included, have begun to make standardized tests optional for admissions.

This will hopefully create a more diverse campus for Arizona students, as well as give some students who may have not had the opportunity to attend college based on an instance of poor test performance to enter school and make a difference.

But there is a somewhat strange catch for students who elect to not take any standardized tests at Arizona: Students will not be considered for merit-based scholarships without submitting SAT or ACT test scores. So, while low-income students may be capable of entering the school without test scores affected by their upbringing or lack of funds to pay for test prep, they would have to take the test in order to earn the scholarships that they probably need in order to attend the school at all.

While schools are certainly taking steps to move away from standardized tests and toward other factors for admission, the process is arduous.

With the SAT and ACT so deeply ingrained into the minds of high schoolers, parents, college admissions and scholarship boards, it will likely take years to completely phase out tests, which reward not only a bit of good luck on test day but also wealthy parents and a more fortunate upbringing.

But the trend is looking bright, as 800 colleges nationwide have made admissions tests optional. This will hopefully give opportunities to attend college to more low-income students and minorities if they’ve earned their spot through their work in the classroom.


Brendan Tinoco is a sophomore studying philosophy and economics. Follow him on Twitter.

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