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Why Colleges Overweight the SAT?

Most competitive colleges now make one SAT score, taken on a single day, nearly equal in weight to a GPA earned over 3+ years. Fairly or not, that is the system of the modern admissions process. At least three elements gird this overweighting of the SAT:

  1. The SAT I is a decent test of skills and knowledge. The SAT is supposedly a predictor of achievement during one's college years. (I have not found a study proving such and am quite skeptical, but colleges continue to spout that line.)
  2. Colleges overweight the SAT because other measures, like GPA, moral character, and school competitiveness, are difficult to compare.
  3. Colleges are themselves assessed by average SAT scores of incoming students. The most prominent college ranking survey, US News & World Report, weights highly SAT scores of incoming freshmen. Since most colleges desire to have high rankings on the US News survey, they demand that admissions committees make SAT scores a major factor.

For these reasons, the SAT is likely to remain as a hulking, huge criterion for college admissions. The US News survey COULD de-emphasize SAT scores; another survey COULD replace the prominence of US News', but even then the other factors will remain, strongly urging SAT prep for college-bound students.

The Good News

The SAT is coachable. Almost everyone improves with training. The question is how much. The SAT is not a measure of fixed knowledge, skills, or "intelligence." Ask students who have raised their scores 200+ points after two months' preparation.

Overweighting the SAT gives an opportunity to high school students who lack strong grades, or are at less-highly regarded schools.

The Bad News

Mastering the SAT is not particularly fun. SAT Math is difficult because it asks familiar concepts in unfamiliar ways. SAT Verbal is difficult because it asks vocabulary that is often unfamiliar, and demands reading skills many students have never used.

A Good Mindset

I like kids to know that in this decade, part of the responsibility of college-bound high school students is to succeed on the SAT. I arm parents with these lines to the reluctant teen:

"Students who attend better colleges have more FUN. Girls don't go to your parties if you attend a commuter school; they flock to parties at reputable colleges." (Girls generally figure out earlier than boys that it's solid to hang out with smart people.)

"If you don't take the SAT seriously, do not expect us to pay for anything other than community college."

"SAT prep is an easier chore than cleaning the floors or mowing the lawn. And if you don't put some effort into the SAT, cleaning floors and mowing lawns may be what you do for a living."