the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Allen Zhou ’23
Like many fellow anxious Westminster Fifth Formers, I started working on my SAT before the school year even started. After being tormented by the specter of the SSAT during my middle school years, I always doubted the value of these standard tests. Officially known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT is designed to evaluate students’ capability of taking on challenging workloads in college; over the past 90 years or so, SAT and its younger sibling, ACT, have become an inevitable rite of passage for bright young people before they take the next step in their lives. Yet, over the years, the value of these standardized tests has come under increasing scrutiny on both fronts of merits and equity.
One major reason why these standard tests exist is so that colleges have a superficially objective tool to measure applicants’ academic merits. However, with an ever-expanding list of test prep services and handy dandy guidebooks, a billion-dollar industry has emerged to give the children of the wealthy quite the head start. High scores after repeated preparation exercises through these run-of-the-mill operations are a mere reflection of time and money wasted. Its correlation to students’ true scholastic aptitude has significantly diminished. Underlining inequality is another undeniable feature of the system. Less adrift in the murky waters of the rumor mill are the college admissions scandals of 2019, code-named “Varsity Blues” by the FBI, where it was proven that numerous millionaires collaborated with test centers to boost their children’s test scores. On the other hand, students from humble backgrounds sometimes even struggle to pay for one test, not to mention getting tutors for months of preparation work. As they stand today, these tests promote neither meritocracy nor equity. It is high time to leave them in the past.
To have aspirations and hopes broken on the back of a cold, impersonal number seems almost too cruel a thing to do to the dedicated college students of tomorrow. Is there an alternative method for colleges to measure applicants so that they can recruit the best and brightest based on a system built on equity?
In a study performed by the University of Chicago, it was demonstrated that the high school GPA is a better hallmark than any standardized test.
On average, a student who achieves highly in high school but scores mediocrely on the SAT has a far better chance than a student who performs averagely in school and scores highly on a standardized test. Admittedly, the rigor and pace of every high school vary wildly, and the phenomenon of grade inflation becomes ever more prominent in some schools. To counter this, observing students’ consistency in course performance might be helpful. A student who does well in most academic courses over a sustained period will have the mental fortitude to persevere through all four years of their undergraduate program, whereas it is far easier to simply expend a great amount of effort over a very short time to study for a test. Class ranking might be another measure to supplement GPA. No matter how much a school tries to inflate a student's grades or how tough a neighborhood the school is in, there is always a way to put students into a percentile ranking. If a student can demonstrate his consistency in maintaining a good ranking in whichever high school he goes to, that is a very reliable indicator of his chances to succeed in colleges and life beyond.
However, all of this comes from an impatient and angry high school student, one with no experience in college counseling, so definitely take all of this with a grain of salt. SAT scores are still relatively pertinent in many areas of the admissions process, and when applying to most prestigious colleges, it is generally advised to present them if you have received an impressive score. Yet this is no endorsement of these tests; they simply remain, for now, a necessary evil—a metric by which millions of students will be assessed during this very year. So, take great care in your preparations and still try your best, as this test holds great sway over your future, for better or for worse.