SAT and ACT exams do not accurately measure academic ability

Maddie Hiller, Staff Writer

The Standardized Aptitude Test (SAT) and The American College Test (ACT) are standardized tests administered several times each year throughout the United States.  Both tests are intended to assess high school students’ readiness for college.  When ambitious students apply for higher education, admissions officers sort through hundreds of thousands of applications.  SAT and ACT scores have long been separating factors on who gets accepted and who gets rejected from any particular school.

However, neither the SAT nor the ACT are accurate measures of students’ academic ability.  These tests are essentially designed to measure how well one is able to take a standardized test, while also being under the pressure of time.  The issue is that even those students who have great academic ability and perform exceptionally well in school may not be able to complete every section in the amount of time given.  This gives a clear disadvantage to students who are unable to work quickly, even though this does not necessarily mean that those students have trouble with the material being tested.  Just because a student needs more time to complete an exam does not mean that they are unable to answer the questions being asked.  

“While preparing for the ACT, I’ve found that it’s not the material stumping me, but the fact that I have to answer every question at a fast speed in order to finish each section,” said junior Ava Weshler.  “Having 60 minutes to complete 60 math questions isn’t enough time for me to fully think every question through and ensure that my answers are correct.”  

Some students have the privilege of receiving extra time on the SAT or ACT, which also helps to argue how these tests are not accurate in measuring the academic abilities of students.  Time is one of the main challenges of these tests, and these accommodations may give too much of an advantage to those who receive extra time.

Additionally, there are countless reasons why students could score poorly on either test even though they actually have the ability to perform well.  For instance, students may be hungry, sleep deprived, anxious, unable to focus, or ill the day of the test.  If one happens to be having an “off” day, their test score will not accurately measure their overall intelligence from the couple of hours they spent taking the test.  In addition, though students can take both exams as many times as they would like, this will not change anything for students who have testing anxiety and do not perform well in a stressful environment of a standardized test.  Many students complete practice tests with high scores only to do worse on the real exam because they get nervous.  

“Even though I do well on all my practice tests, whenever I take a real ACT the score is not as high because I get nervous,” said junior Julia Semilof.  “Even if I take the test more than once, my nerves will still prevent me from doing my best and I don’t think it’s fair that colleges will only see the scores I receive when I am too stressed to possibly do well.”

  The SAT and ACT definitely do not measure how great of a student someone is.  The tests are unable to demonstrate one’s ability to learn in high school, take notes, and listen attentively in class.  While some believe that doing well in school is all about superior test-taking skills and therefore high test scores, academic ability entails success in a wide variety of tasks, including participation, organization, understanding the material, and putting in effort.  Since all students have different strengths and weaknesses, test-taking should not be considered the most important aspect of success.  It is far more important to comprehend what is being taught in class than to learn the tricks of a standardized test.  The content covered on both of these exams is extremely different from what students are being taught in school.  Both exams consist of questions regarding math, reading, writing, and sometimes science.  Although those subjects are focused on in high school, the questions asked are not always learned the same way by all students.  An exam in a specific class in school would consist of material covered during the weeks leading up to it.  If a student applies oneself and studies diligently, an above-average or excellent grade can be achieved.  The same cannot be said for the SAT or the ACT, where any material that has been studied over the months leading up to the test can show up at any point.

It has long been debated whether these two tests can determine if a student will be able to succeed after high school. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, the SAT and ACT are designed to predict only first-year college grades.  Neither test is proven to determine success beyond freshman year, including graduation rates and future pursuit of a graduate degree.  Also, according to research done by the tests’ creators, class rank and high school grades are still both better predictors of college performance than the SAT or the ACT.

“Some people perform exceedingly well on the SAT or the ACT because of their natural abilities. I don’t think this displays their work ethic and how hardworking they have been working throughout all of high school,” said junior Ali Martinez.

Multiple for-profit companies, including the Princeton Review, Kaplan Learning, and Private Prep, offer expensive private tutoring sessions in order to help students boost their standardized test results.  High school students who are motivated to move on to colleges and whose families have money to pay for such services often attend night or weekend tutoring sessions in order to learn strategies and shortcuts around the tricks of the SAT and the ACT.  If wealthy people can afford the luxury of support from others who have mastered these exams, how can the tests results exhibit an accurate view of students’ abilities?  Clearly, those less-fortunate students can’t be expected to achieve the same success.

Because of the issue of time, content, and the economic inequality across the country, the SAT and ACT do not accurately demonstrate students’ academic abilities.