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The "Frenzy" Over Standardized Tests

A recent editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram discusses the pros and cons of trying to prepare for the SAT in order to raise scores and make oneself more desirable for admission to top schools.

The author, Mitchell Schnurman, decries the fact that the SATs and ACTs are too important in judging the worth of students–or the worth of colleges themselves. He notes that the Fort Worth school district entered into a $1.4 million contract with Princeton Review to provide test prep courses for all students in the district. While Schurman, and the district, are not altogether happy about having to prep students for these exams, the reality is that in today’s competitive world of college admissions, there is little choice but to try to help students do the best they possibly can.

Just about everyone complains about the out-of-whack emphasis on the SAT and its rival entrance exam, the ACT. Parents, students, teachers, counselors, college admissions officers, think-tank experts — they all dis it to varying degrees, and some colleges have stopped requiring the tests.

But most keep playing the game and turning up the pressure.

Colleges, too, try to tell the public–and anxious students and parents–that SAT or ACT scores don’t matter all that much. Schnurman quotes a representative from Texas Christian University who says that test scores make up only about 20% of the admissions decision.

But in the next breath, TCU is bragging about the fact that its next incoming class has higher test scores than ever before. And while they don’t say so out loud, the higher the average test scores, the higher up the selectivity curve the college can claim to be. While some colleges have gone “test optional” in recent years, you won’t hear a single college boasting about how low its students’ tests scores are.

Like it or not, standardized test scores matter in admissions decisions. Depending on the individual student, they may make more or less difference as they apply to college, depending upon what other factors the applicant may be able to bring to the application (GPA, class rank, athletic prowess, teacher recommendations, and/or other special talents–to name a few). So I tell my clients to take them seriously as applicants.

But I also do what I can to remind students and their families that scores on standardized tests are no gauge of a person’s worth. They are not necessarily a gauge of raw intelligence or potential. While we cannot deny their importance in the admission process, we should do all that we can to find other measures of our humanity.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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