SAT and standardized tests

Opinion

In theory, the concept of a test that is fair for all students and that accurately measures how prepared a student is for college sounds like a good idea. According to the Princeton Review, the purpose of the SAT is to assess how prepared a student is for college and to provide colleges with one common data point to compare all applicants. In practice, however, these tests are not as fair as they claim to be for a number of reasons. These tests do not take into account that some students have test anxiety which can affect performance or learning differences that make sitting down for an extended period of time difficult. While these problems with standardized tests should be enough alone to raise concerns, one of the most alarming issues with standardized tests is that they perpetuate socioeconomic inequality.

Many students here at KO in my grade, form 5, have already started preparing for the SAT and other standardized test, myself included. While some students have opted to buy a practice book, many are seeing tutors, both privately or in small classes. Of course there is no issue with students making an effort to get the best score they can get, but these classes or private tutoring sessions cost a lot of money which can be difficult or impossible for some to afford. SAT preparation classes cost over a thousand dollars for a course and private tutoring can cost upwards of two hundred dollars per session.

Additionally, students who attend private schools such as KO are exposed to more resources for standardized test preparation starting at an earlier age. For example, here at KO when students are in their sophomore year they are exposed to both SAT and ACT practice tests. At KO students are educated about both of the tests along with their similarities and their differences.  This helps students to decide on which test it is best for them to focus or to determine if they should take both. There is no denying that students who attend KO or schools like KO are much more prepared for these tests much earlier than students elsewhere.

Both outside tutors focusing on test preparation and schools that educate their students on the tests are incredible and help students tremendously with not only feeling more confident when taking the tests but also improving their scores. There is no doubt that the longer one spends studying and learning strategies for taking the SAT and the ACT, the better they will perform on the actual test day.

Students from a lower socioeconomic background are at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to taking these tests simply because they cannot afford professional help to raise their score. Their disadvantage here puts them at another disadvantage when applying to schools because of how heavily weighted test scores are in the college admission process. If a student with this background cannot attend a good college then they have a low chance of improving their socioeconomic status, whereas a student who can afford test prep and private school has a higher chance of being accepted into a more prestigious college and maintaining their status.

This is a factor that undermines the American Dream and the myth that all one has to do is work hard in order to improve their social and economic standing. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, over half of children born in the higher income brackets receive college degrees where only 7% of the children born in the lowest income brackets do. College degrees enable people to receive higher paying jobs and raise their socioeconomic status, so having a test that puts those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds at a disadvantage perpetuates inequality and thwarts socioeconomic mobility.