The basic SAT exam evaluates student knowledge in reading, writing and math. Record numbers of students graduating in 2012 took the SATs, but scores dramatically declined in two of the three required exam sections. The obvious downside of SAT testing includes the price of the exam that discourages low-income students from taking it -- but the standardized evaluation has other advantages and disadvantages for universities, secondary schools and students preparing to go to college.
Admission and Scholarship Standards
Colleges find advantages in SAT exams and use the scores as part of admissions standards. Scholarship committees also ask for the exam scores to award education funds. Scores determine the overall quality of the applicant, according to these groups, and they link the numbers to the probability of success in college. The National Association for College Admission Counseling in 2011 found colleges admit students based on grades in college prep courses, strength of the curriculum in the courses taken by the student and standardized admission test scores -- in that order.
In addition to the basic exams, the SAT agency offers students the option of taking subject-area tests in history, mathematics, science, literature and a number of foreign languages, including Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Latin. The content-area exams, along with the regular SAT, give students and parents a chance to evaluate personal skills to determine the amount of review necessary to do well in college. High scores on exams show college admission officers that the student has mastery of subject areas not offered at the student's school. Districts and individual schools also use test scores to evaluate departments and programs and improve the curriculum to help district students score higher on the exams. The College Board, administrators of the SAT and subject area tests, claim approximately 500,000 students each year take the special content exams.
Secondary students retake SATs to improve scores, and frequently enroll in extensive professional preparation courses to practice the questions asked on the exam. This preparation defeats the purpose of an exam to show the student's breadth of knowledge for college work. Students repeating answers fail to reflect a mastery of the subject area. Preparation courses also discriminate against students without money to pay for the targeted tutoring. This makes high test scores due to preparation an option only for the wealthy, according to researcher Claudia Buchmann, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University.
Standardized exams, including the SAT, ask questions that favor some learning styles over others, and this leaves groups of test takers at a disadvantage compared with others. "Learning style" is a term to describe the way people prefer to learn or demonstrate knowledge. Auditory and visual learners, people who learn best by reading or listening to information, perform better on exams that incorporate questions involving reading and writing. This group of learners has advantages when taking the SAT exam when compared with learners who perform best by demonstrating knowledge through physical action or activity.
- U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid: Taking Required Tests
- National Association for College Admission Counseling: State of College Admission 2011
- Ohio State Research: SAT Test Prep Tools Give Advantage to Students from Wealthier Families
- Advocates for Children of New York: Statement
- Northern Arizona University: Learning Styles and Standardized Tests
- Wall Street Journal: SAT Scores Fall as More Students Take Exam
- SAT: About the Tests -- Why Take the SAT
- College Board: SAT Subject Tests -- What Are the SAT Subject Tests?
- SAT Subject Tests Teacher's Corner: Help Your Students Gain an Edge
- University of California, Berkeley GSPP intranet -- Working Papers: SAT Scores, High Schools, and Collegiate Performance Predictions
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