Post a New Question | Current Questions | Chat With Live Tutors
Is the SAT a Fair Test?
by Alexander Chuang
Click here for current reader responses.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT I) is a "right of passage for 2 million
students each year and can be a major determinant in where they go to
college" (Lemann "In His Own..."1). As years go by, more universities and
parents are asking is, "Is it fair?" Nearly all colleges and universities
select students based on SAT scores. These scores supposedly predict
students' academic levels and promote diversity on the national level.
Unfortunately, the test promotes elitism. There is a sense that the test
determines which college a person attends and how he will do before he even
enters. This is as unfair, like assuming there is water on Mars without
stepping foot on it and looking. No one test truly measures someone's
intellectual and economic future.
Deep in the archives of Harvard University, there is an unfinished book
called What We Are Fighting to Defend, which was written by Harvard's
President James Conant at the outset of the Second World War. Conant was
convinced that "the United States had gone from being a classless,
democratic society to one that was relentlessly falling under the control of
a hereditary aristocracy" (Lemann "Behind the SAT" 2). During the 1930's,
most rich boys who had gone to New England boarding schools went to Harvard.
When Conant became president of Harvard, he established a scholarship
program to attract other students. With the number of school systems, it
was impossible to directly compare students and decide who deserves the
scholarships. Conant sent his assistants to create a method of selecting
"scholarship students" (Lemann "Behind the SAT" 3). They found a test that
could solve Conant's dilemma.
Outdoor view of Harvard's campus
The SAT was created by Carl Brigham, a professor of psychology at
Princeton. He developed IQ tests for army recruits before World War I.
Brigham began to use the Army IQ test for college use, administering the SAT
for the first time in 1926. At the opening of World War II, old college
admission tests were replaced by the SAT; all applicants took it. At the
conclusion of the Second World War, Conant established a nonprofit
organization called the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The function of
the ETS was to oversee administration of the test at several locations in
the country. Ironically, Brigham did not approve the formation of the ETS.
He predicted that "a big, new testing agency that had to survive financially
on fees paid by the takers of its test, [ETS] would inevitably be devoted
mainly to protecting and promoting the tests, rather than to evaluating and
improving them" (Lemann "Behind the STA" 7). Despite this warning, the ETS
ETS analysis of recent test scores show that the SAT may be bias towards
women and minorities. This year women scored 38 points lower than male test
takers. In 1993, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a
study showing that SAT under predicted women's scores (Toch 1). When they
compared the SAT scores and grades of men and women, they found that women's
grades were equal or better, but SAT scores were lower. Even ETS
researchers reached the same conclusion.
The SAT is very effective at eliminating academically strong minority
students who apply with strong academic records but relatively low SAT
scores ("The SAT: Questions..." 4). Minorities and first generation students
face more obstacles on the test than male white test takers. A qualified
minority may not score well because his English was insufficient. The
quickness required to finish the test is also too much for students whose
first language is not English ("The SAT: Questions..." 4). Although the SAT
is suppose to help colleges decide who to admit, "colleges that have made
the SAT an optional report that their applicant pools are more diverse and
that there has been no drop off in academic quality ("The SAT: Questions..."
Besides under predicting college grades, the SAT is also misused. The
National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses the Preliminary Scholastic
Aptitude Test (PSAT), another form of the SAT, to determine which students
are awarded with scholarship money based on scores. All PSAT scores are
sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They evaluate each
score. Students with high scores are considered semi-finalists. Then other
personally qualities and talents of the test-taker are evaluated. This
should have done before the test is administered. What if extremely
talented students are excluded because of a low-test score? This test
should not "filter" out other academically strong students. Like the SAT,
males score higher on PSAT although girls earn better grades in school ("The
SAT: Questions..." 4). Obviously, this is not a fair way to give away
The SAT test has numerous amounts of flaws and factors that could be
detrimental to one's life. SAT consists of seven timed sections. All the
questions are multiple choice, except fifteen math questions. Although ETS
said that multiple-choice questions "only measures the outcome of a thought
process, not the steps along the war," all questions on the SAT are mostly
multiple-choice ("What Every Parent..." 4). Another problem is that test
questions are independent from high school curriculum. Students have to
spend extra time preparing for the test. The types of questions are
different from what students normally face in class. Exams in high school
are focused on a specific topic in a given subject, while the SAT test
general topics in math and English. Students in school are tested
objectively on the course work while the SAT tests are subjectively on
topics that they are suppose to be familiar with. According to the test,
all eleventh graders are supposed to know high-level vocabulary and
interpret reading passages be very subjective at times. People interpret
reading material differently. What are the chances they interpret it
correctly by answering the questions right? Rich people tend to hire an SAT
tutor or enroll in class. These lessons are helping students raise their
scores significantly. Then what happens to unfortunate poor students who
cannot enroll in class? They get a lower score or get lucky and obtain a
good score. Colleges cannot tell who has been tutored and who has not gone
to SAT prep classes, giving students, who enroll in class, an immense
advantage over students who did not enroll in class.
While students are trying to improve their scores, ETS comes up with a few
rights and responsibilities for them to follow. Test takers are permitted
and expected to prepare "for the test appropriately, following program
requirements, and not copying or taking secure materials" ("Standards for
Quality and Fairness"). Although these rights sound appealing, they have no
affect on overall fairness of the test. All these rights are common sense
statements that are used for protection against disgruntled test takers.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test is a standardized test that tells college
little to nothing about the test taker. It only shows how many questions
one can get right in a very short period. The SAT test focuses too much on
quantity. The test takers' personal traits and latent abilities are much
more important than the number of test questions answered correctly. The
test underrates talented people with poor test taking skills. Unless one is
lucky, his SAT score will definitely downgrade his abilities and thus may
give colleges the wrong message. The test even under predicts freshman
grade level of certain ethnic races. Brigham's prediction was correct. The
ETS spends more time trying to persuade more students to take the test than
making improvements. Most students are given the message that SAT is the
only thing that will determine whether one goes to college or not.
Obviously, there are different ways to get into college. Most students over
look that. How can this test, controlled by an incompetent "nonprofit"
organization, be use to decide someone's future? Simple, it can't.
For Further Reading