The SAT sucks

ollege used to be seen as a luxury for the elite; today it is a near necessity in order to find a sustainable career. The SAT can derail college eligible students from either acceptance or sufficient financial aid, simply because of their current situation, therefore putting them at a significant disadvantage for the rest of their adult lives. (Steven S./Flickr Creative Commons)

America is a nation which has always favored the wealthy, white and college educated elite, while suppressing social mobility in order to increase the power of those on top of the hierarchy. Consequently, the SAT is the perfect test for America. It must be abolished.

The SAT is inherently unfair to Americans in poverty. SAT scores have a strong positive correlation to income; students who are from wealthy families can afford tutors who charge exorbitant hourly rates. I come from a wealthy family like this. My sisters and I all received high end tutoring for over a year each, and we all scored very well on the test. These tutors do not just teach the math or reading skills necessary to succeed; they literally teach the test. They tell you exactly what kind of problem you will face and how to deal with that problem. The difference between an average student who knows the test and one who does not can be immense.

SAT scores can often be tied important scholarships, meaning a low income student who is accepted into a college may not be able to go (or have to put extreme stress on their family) because of their SAT scores. For instance, at UConn, Academic Excellence Scholarships are awarded based solely on SAT scores. Even if students are able to overcome low scores in admissions, they can find themselves unable to attend a school because a lack of scholarships.

A student's level of parental education is also a key determinant. The 2013 College Board demographic report reveals that the higher level of education your parents have achieved, the higher your scores will be. Parents who have gone through the process of applying for college know the ropes, and relay that information to their children. Growing up, I knew I had to take the SAT in order to go to college (both my parents have graduate degrees). At my high school, the largest public school in New Haven, many of my friends did not have the same experience. As refugees, immigrants or simply the first generation in their family to consider secondary education, they did not have the knowledge about applying to college I once considered implicit. Some did not even know about the SAT, or its importance, until they were informed the day we were taking it in school. Studies, like this one (it is old, but relevant), show that lacking parents who went to college significantly decreases preparedness for the SAT.

Going to private school also strongly correlates with doing well on the SAT. The 2013 report shows that private school students achieved significantly higher scores on the reading, writing and math portions of the test. Obviously, private schools cost money, and are therefore a barrier.

It is true that SAT (and ACT) scores are playing an increasingly limited role in college admissions. I applaud this and encourage the vast majority of colleges which still require the test to observe what is happening at test optional schools. Test optional means applicants only have to submit scores if they want to and will not be treated differently for deciding not to. Although there are no definitive conclusions yet, it seems the decision to go test-optional has improved diversity, increasing the number of minority, low income and first generation students.

I hate anything that decreases social mobility and plays into the cyclical poverty so many American families have been experiencing for generations. The SAT is one of those things. College used to be seen as a luxury for the elite; today it is a near necessity in order to find a sustainable career. The SAT can derail college eligible students from either acceptance or sufficient financial aid, simply because of their current situation, therefore putting them at a significant disadvantage for the rest of their adult lives. Their kids will not go to private school or have an expensive tutor but, their kids, in all likelihood, will live their lives in the same place on the socioeconomic ladder, with little hope for advancement.

The SAT is not the only barrier to college, but it is a significant, which we can do something about. Abolish the SAT, and we will move one step closer to the American dream becoming a reality. Oh, and get rid of the “non-profit” College Board while we are at it.


Harry Zehner is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at harry.zehner@uconn.edu.