“The Truth about the SAT and ACT,” an article that Nathan Kuncel and Paul Sackett published in The Wall Street Journal on March 8, 2018, provides a wealth of new insights into standardized tests.

We all thought we understood those tests, correct? Most of us conceptualized them in this way:

The SAT and ACT are tests that are used to screen college applicants . . . the higher the score that students earn on them, the greater their chance of getting admitted to more competitive colleges

Of course, that characterization of the tests is true. But in their article, Kuncel and Sackett point out that the SAT and ACT are much more than admissions tests. The scores that students achieve on them can be used to measure other factors, including:

  • How well students will perform in college. In fact, the SAT was created to predict just that, and not as a college admissions tool. When we consider the SAT and ACT from that perspective, we see that they can actually serve as useful tools that can help guide students to colleges that will challenge, but not over challenge them. How many school guidance counselors see the SAT and ACT in that way? Very few, perhaps because of the now-standard practice of tutoring all students to earn the highest scores possible on the tests.
  • How well students will perform in working life after college. In fact, a now-famous longitudinal study begun in 2007 by Gregory Park, David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow has found that the results of the SAT can be used to predict success in working life.

Plus, authors Kuncel and Sackett say that there is another reason why the SAT and ACT are uniquely important in the college admissions process. Of all the documentation that students submit to colleges where they are applying, test scores serve as the only reliable tool for directly comparing one student to another.

That is because all the other factors that college admissions teams weigh are not standardized. It is easier to achieve a perfect GPA at some schools than it is at others, for example. Similarly, it is easier to be a standout athlete at some schools than it is at others. And extracurricular experiences also differ from one school to another.

ACT and SAT scores, in contrast, offer a more reliable way to compare applicants. In theory, students take them on a “level playing field.” Even though there are inequalities, such as the fact that some students can pay more money than others can for test prep and tutoring, ACT and SAT scores are the closest thing that college admissions officers have to a yardstick for comparing applicants on a uniform scale.

So, Is It Time to Toss Standardized Tests?

In the past, we have been tempted to think so. But now that Nathan Kuncel and Paul Sackett have pointed out that the SAT and ACT are college aptitude tests, not college admissions tools per se, we are thinking about them in new ways.

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