Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Commentary

The SAT Needs to Be Harder

By Jonathan Wai — July 24, 2012 2 min read

Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors with nearly impeccable academic records submit their applications to highly selective colleges. And every year, the admissions officers at these schools have to find a way to decide how to allocate the limited number of seats in each of their freshman classes.

How do they do it?

For just about every highly selective school, the major selection criteria are a student’s SAT scores, high school grade point average, the difficulty of coursework, and extracurricular participation. Each school emphasizes different measurements depending upon its institutional focus; however, there remains one constant that plays a very large role in admissions: the SAT.

Tens of thousands of students every year who are in direct competition for the slots at the nation's most elite universities are likely in danger that the SAT will not capture the true level of their academic ability."

Admissions officers at schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale will tell you that there’s an issue: The vast majority of students whose applications they review have perfect or near-perfect GPAs and SAT scores, so these metrics can’t be used to distinguish between the very best candidates. This means that other yardsticks—such as a student’s involvement in extracurricular activities—have become, by default, much more important because the objective academic metrics don’t have enough headroom.

Every year, over 200,000 intellectually talented 7th graders from across the country take the SAT, which is designed for the average 11th grader, to distinguish the academically tall from the academically giant. By the time those students get to the 11th grade, a majority of them will likely reach within 100 to 200 points of a perfect score. But this is simply because the test is not challenging enough for them.

Today, a perfect score on the SAT is 2400. A score of 3000 or 4000 is not currently possible, but that is because the test is simply not hard enough to measure a score that high. But if the test were more difficult, who’s to say that some of these talented students might not be able to achieve a higher score?

One way to solve this problem would be for the Educational Testing Service to design a harder SAT, and for all we know, something like this is already in the works. But for the purposes of selective college admissions, I offer a much simpler and more pragmatic solution for the short term: Highly selective colleges should require the GRE—or another graduate-school admissions exam—instead of the SAT as a measurement of academic aptitude. This is because the GRE is essentially just a harder SAT.

Tens of thousands of students every year who are in direct competition for the slots at the nation’s most elite universities are likely in danger that the SAT will not capture the true level of their academic ability. This can put them at a disadvantage in the college-admissions process.

spotlight assessment

Of course, one could argue that even these graduate-admissions exams wouldn’t have enough headroom for the most talented students. But if selective colleges required a test that were at least more difficult than the SAT, it would likely reduce the problem.

This would ease the dilemma of admissions officers seeing a perfect 2400 on the SAT and not knowing whether that student has the academic potential to exceed the demands of the test.

If talented high school students took a harder test, it could also have a secondary effect: teaching them a greater sense of humility at a critical moment in their lives.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and wellbeing during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Strategic Account Manager
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
President and CEO
Alexandria, Virginia
National Association of State Boards of Education
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Special Report Student Interest in Health-Care Careers Takes Off During Pandemic
The coronavirus crisis is boosting a trend toward health-care and medical pathways. The challenge is getting students hands-on training.
7 min read
Nurse giving man injection
Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Special Report Thanks to COVID-19, High Schoolers' Job Prospects Are Bleak. Here's How Schools Can Help
The economic fallout from COVID-19 is speeding up workforce changes and vulnerable students are at greater risk of falling behind.
8 min read
African-American teen boy using laptop
Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Whitepaper
Virtual Career Learning Lifts All Students
Learn how virtual career readiness is a game changer for schools and districts looking to make career preparation more equitable, reachin...
Content provided by K12 Learning Solutions
College & Workforce Readiness Leader To Learn From An Untapped Path to Equity Runs Through Career-Technical Education
Former EdWeek Leader to Learn From Susana Cordova, now with the Dallas district, highlights how CTE could be harnessed to create equity.
Susana Cordova
6 min read
Susana Cordova, deputy superintendent of leading and learning at the Dallas Independent School District
Susana Cordova, deputy superintendent of leading and learning at the Dallas Independent School District.
Allison V. Smith for Education Week