What the SAT actually measures

Kayla Rand, Editor in Chief of Web

It’s one of the most dreaded tests out there. It’s met with anxiety, stress, and (if you’ve already taken the test) jokes about the anxiety and stress of the next up to take it. Perhaps it’s met with studying for hours on end every night for weeks or months in advance, perhaps it’s met with such crippling test anxiety that even attempting to study causes one to panic and freeze up. It’s a test that very literally decides the futures of many high school students; you might have the best grades on the planet, but if your dream college doesn’t like your SAT score, well that’s just tough luck, isn’t it? You might not be let in. And god forbid you don’t take the SAT– That’s your future you’re wasting, how could you even dream of not taking one of the most important tests of your education career?

Nothing I just said sounds even remotely pleasant. In fact, the entire system seems to be in desperate need of change. Why are we staking so much on a single test? The kids taking it are already over-stressed trying to finish high school with good grades, trying to figure out what path they want their future to take, perhaps applying to colleges or jobs, and balancing family life on top of all this- Does it really make sense to place a 4 hour test that matters this much in the middle of this whirlpool of anxiety and stress?

But of course, I haven’t even mentioned the best part of all of this– The test isn’t free. It’s approximately $50.

Just let that sink in a moment. We’re taking high schoolers, most of whom barely have enough money for lunch, and forcing them to shell out $50 to take a test that is essentially mandatory. And if the student messes up on the test? Let’s say they weren’t at the top of their game that day; they only got a few hours of sleep the night before because they were up all night worrying about the test, or they felt too sick to eat a good breakfast that morning because they were worried about the test, or they didn’t study as much as they could have because they were distracted by how worried they were about the test (are you seeing a pattern here?). The fee isn’t $50 to take the SAT enough times to get a good score, it’s $50 per attempt. If you want to try one more time for those few extra points, you’re already sunk about $100 into this test.

But don’t worry! You can do good on the test as long as you just study. In fact, the people who produce the SAT were kind enough to create books and practices specifically designed to help you practice everything on the test so you can get a good score. Now, you do have between $8 and $30 to get these books, don’t you? …What’s that? You don’t want to spend half the price of the test on top of the test fee to do well? You’d rather find a free practice exam? Good luck with that, because the unofficial practices vary in helpfulness and legitimacy- You might just find the unlucky free practice flashcards from years ago that are no longer up to date and won’t help you at all. The only real way to secure helpful preparation is through the official study guides.

That’s right, you have to pay these people to do well on their own test. That’s starting to sound remarkably corrupt, isn’t it?

But don’t worry, when all of this is finally over, you get to send your SAT score to colleges. Try your hardest to show the college admissions staff a nice high number that they’ll only look at once. But of course, that has to be paid for too. You only get 4 free score reports, then you have to pay $11.25 per school you’d like to send these too. We don’t even get our scores for free.

In reality, the SAT does not measure your intelligence. Very, very few 12th graders go into this test knowing what the words assonate and redolence mean off the top of their head. If the SAT truly wanted to measure the intelligence of these students, it would test concepts that are reasonable for a 17-year-old to know. It would test things that the common high school curriculum is teaching. It would not test things that can only be found in an answer book provided by the test-makers.

What the SAT actually measures is your wealth. If you have enough money to pay $30 for the book, $43 for the test, $54.50 for the test with the essay when you want to try one more time, $26 for any basic subject tests or language tests, $18 for any other subject tests, and who knows how much for various tutors or unofficial study guides that are also behind paywalls, then you will do absolutely fine. Of course, if you have $172.50+ that you can freely spend on a test like this, please talk to me, because I could use some help from a family like that to try to get my testing in order.

The company that produces this test, CollegeBoard, makes millions of dollars per year off of students just trying to secure themselves a better future. They made $65.6 million in profits off students in 2010 alone. That’s absolutely ridiculous. A mandatory test that will determine if colleges accept me or not and how much financial aid I receive if I get accepted should not put me into debt before college tuition has a chance to.