Colleges Shouldn’t Consider the SAT


The SAT is a flawed exam that should be removed from the college admissions process.

For many high school students, taking the SAT is a rite of passage, the first of many steps towards gaining acceptance at a dream college. The 3-hour standardized test, consisting of Reading, Writing & Language, and Math sections, has been regarded for decades as an accurate measure of student potential. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The SAT should not be considered in college admissions, because it is socioeconomically biased and poorly predicts potential for success in college.

First, the SAT unfairly favors wealthy students over their disadvantaged peers. According to Joseph Soares, sociology professor at Wake Forest University, “The test is a more reliable predictor of demographics than it is of academic performance. […] Test scores correlate with family income.” The fact that SAT scores are heavily influenced by income means that it fails lower-income students who are motivated and intelligent, yet cannot afford test prep. In contrast, wealthy students are able to spend thousands of dollars on prep books, classes, and even one-on-one tutoring. College admissions criteria like the SAT aren’t just a symptom of increasing wealth inequality, they help entrench it: disadvantaged students with relatively little preparation perform poorly, regardless of academic ability, stunting their ability to gain admission at top colleges that act as springboards for upwards social mobility.

GPAs, which don’t suffer from the curriculum-testing mismatch of the SAT, are a more accurate reflection of academic achievement. The standardized nature of the SAT means that it ignores many factors affecting success in college, making some students appear weaker than they actually are. For example, the SAT doesn’t test long-term study habits and communication skills; in addition, tight time constraints mean that the test punishes students who are better at critical thinking but work slower. Furthermore, GPAs “aren’t as heavily influenced as the standardized exams by income, parent education levels and race,” writes Teresa Watanabe, staff writer for the LA Times. SAT scores are less a metric for learning and more for a student’s background. By contrast, GPAs measure skills crucial to future academic and professional success. For many disadvantaged students, low SAT scores– an incomplete picture of ability– can negatively impact their chances of admission. 

Proponents of the SAT argue that it combats grade inflation, which is especially prevalent in affluent communities. However, many colleges receive “school profiles” that summarize information about the school as a whole– admissions officers don’t look at GPAs in a vacuum. In addition, despite grade inflation, GPAs still remain a better indicator of college success than SAT scores. According to Patrick Cooney, a policy associate for non-profit Michigan Future, Inc., a study found that “a student’s high school GPA was one of the strongest predictors of their eventual college graduation – far more predictive than a student’s SAT/ACT score […] a conclusion that holds, regardless of the high school attended.” GPAs are undoubtedly imperfect, but are nevertheless more predictive of college performance than SAT scores.

In addition, some may argue that free SAT study resources are available online. However, classes and prep books that offer high volumes of practice and detailed feedback are far more effective for many students, a reality reflected by the thriving test prep industry. In addition, time is just as limited as money for many students– disadvantaged students often have circumstances that make it difficult to devote time to the SAT. For example, some work long hours to help support their families, and others need to care for family members. 

Overall, the SAT skews colleges’ views of applicants’ academic ability and prevents motivated and capable– yet disadvantaged– students from rising above their circumstances. 

To view this issue from another perspective, click here.