In an attempt to make the SAT more relevant, the College Board recently announced several major changes to the test, effective in the spring of 2016. It plans to return the test to a 1600-point scale, with no penalty for incorrect answers. This revised SAT will test vocabulary from college curricula rather than obscure words, and the essay portion will be optional and recorded as a separate score. Although there is still much room for improvement, these changes bring the SAT one step closer toward actually measuring students’ academic abilities rather than their test-taking strategies.
Besides changing the test itself, the College Board announced measures to help low-income students throughout the country navigate the test process. It will allow low-income students to apply to four colleges at no charge and offer free online test training through Khan Academy. These changes have the potential to close the admissions gap between those who can afford extensive test prep as well as multiple college applications and those who cannot.
College Board president David Coleman stated that a culture of expensive preparation for standardized testing contributes to the perception of inequality in the United States. As one of the main standardized testing institutions in the United States, the College Board carries a responsibility to address the inequalities that have arisen in the college application process. Khan Academy’s test training, now available even for the current SAT, uses interactive videos and questions to provide free and credible test preparation to all students.
However, for the current test, students have learned how to answer a predictable set of questions rather than how to develop the critical thinking required in college. In the revised SAT, the essay will require students to analyze a document rather than draw from memorized examples. The College Board has retitled the verbal sections “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing,” which will include critical analysis in the humanities and the sciences. By aiming for a good score, students preparing for the SAT will also prepare themselves for college. The College Board should be praised for its research thus far in this effort.
After taking the current test, students with more resources can afford to apply to more colleges, increasing their probabilities of admission. In addition to this, students with more resources can afford to pay another $51 to retake the SAT and the SAT subject tests numerous times and potentially improve their scores each time. Due to the important role that the SAT plays in the admissions process, the advantages that students with more resources enjoy contribute to an uneven playing field when it comes to college admittance. This leads to a lack of diversity on college campuses. Addressing some of the obstacles low-income students face was a vital necessity for the College Board, and the company has the social responsibility to continue to aid low-income students in the test taking process.
The College Board’s efforts follow a recent pledge by the Obama administration to increase college enrollment and completion for low-income students. Wellesley, which already has a free application, is part of this pledge and should continue to make efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity on campus. Even with changes in the SAT, only part of what Wellesley looks for in students can be captured in a score, whether it is out of 2400 or 1600. A perfect score doesn’t guarantee that a student will be successful at Wellesley, nor does a low score mean the student will be unsuccessful. Wellesley College’s admissions office should continue its commitment to a holistic evaluation of applicants.
While the changes in the SAT should be applauded for their relevance, colleges should place less emphasis on standardized tests in the future. The SATs are a necessary component of the admissions process because they are the only standard measure that can help compare all applicants. But collegs need to look at the bigger picture and refrain from letting test scores play a pivotal role in the admissions process.