The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is the most widely used college aptitude test used in the United States. As it’s name implies, it is an aptitude test, in that it measures academic ability. The SAT is not an intelligence test that measures what a person can do overall. It serves one purpose: To predict freshman grades.
The SAT is not a predictor of who will graduate from college, and most parents and students do not realize this. Also, there has been persistent controversy around the value of the SAT‘s use in admissions. It’s publisher, the College Board, a non-profit organization, routinely defends it’s ability to predict grades. Bear in mind that even though a non-profit, the College Board’s revenues have doubled to $530 million under it’s new president, who is a former business executive and two-term governor of West Virginia. Their corporate approach to higher education, which apparently includes opening their own College Board Schools, appears to include keeping the SAT relevant.
But how relevant are SAT scores for college admissions? In some cases, very. If a student is interested in entering a highly competitive school, then strong SAT scores will be a key issue. However, not all colleges have minimum score requirements, and there’s an emerging trend in some colleges to not require SAT scores at all. There’s some thought that high school grades are a better predictor of college performance, or that the writing portion of the SAT may be a better predictor than the test as a whole. For most admission committees, it’s a composite of high school grades, SAT scores, and other factors that come in to the formula of what would make a good candidate for acceptance.
In the end, SAT scores are imperfect in their predictions. They can’t measure a student’s initiative, drive, and hard work. They also can’t predict who will integrate socially or handle stress. Many students have attended good high schools, graduated with at 3.0 or better, had average to well above average SAT scores, and still had problems in college. The SATs are only one piece of the puzzle for college acceptance, and are not an insulator to problems during college that can lead to failure.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national-level higher education consultant based in Pittsburgh. He has worked with students, families, colleges, and other professionals for more than 10 years. He specializes in understanding why students can end up doing poorly in college, as well as what can be done to address the issues.