My younger brother is a junior in high school and on Sunday he texted my family’s group message with a question that arose in his SAT prep course. The instructor of the course asked the class the following question: “What does the SAT mean?” A classmate immediately answered “stress” and another answered with “no idea” (names of the classmates have been marked out for confidentially). Because college admissions place such a heavy weight on an applicants SAT score, many students opt to take preparation courses in order to learn strategies, tips, and obtain resources for studying to take this test. Notice that I said “studying to take this test.” Standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, are very strategic and assess multiple choice test-taking strategies opposed to representing one’s intelligence or potential for critically applying knowledge.
So, for the next month, my brother is responsible for signing into a virtual Princeton Review SAT prep course for 3-4 hours each Saturday and Sunday. The objective of this course, costing upwards of $500 I might add, is to teach students the most effective strategies for taking the SAT and increasing one’s score. This score increase, which might seem absurd to some, carries a pretty heavy weight in many college admissions processes.
If you can study to take a test, what is the test actually assessing? Is this measure of “intelligence” a predictor of success both in and after college? And, what (really) does the SAT mean?
I would have been shocked if someone answered this last question with, “…I will be successful in the future.”
In psychologist and author, Daniel Goleman’s article “What Predicts Success? It’s Not Your IQ,” he explains that, “The abilities that set stars apart from average at work cover the emotional intelligence spectrum: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social effectiveness.” It’s these human skills, along with numerous others, that distinguish us from others and are predictors of our future successes.
While intelligence is important, is this going to reflect the ways in which we influence the world one day? Does sheer intelligence predict the qualities of a charismatic leader in society? Likely, no, and I would argue that the ability to guess on a multiple choice standardized exam is also not an extremely accurate predictor of future accomplishments. I would be more confident in gauging future success by “measuring” a student’s drive, or their passion within a specific concentration, or their leadership and ability to work alongside others, or their desire to make the world a better place, or their aspiration to become more knowledgable, or their creativity and denial to costrain their dreams—no matter how large.
I would argue that these are better predictors of a student’s capability for success and a student who is going to use their college degree to pursue something much greater than what we can anticipate during their four years of college. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic for a standardized exam to capture, making it even more daunting for college admissions to recognize in each of their thousands of applicants. Regardless, it is important that we recognize that this four-digit score on a standardized test is not what is predictive of our future endeavors, nor should it be used to define us. But sadly, at the time being, this number is a gauge for universities, scholarships, and academic programs who are looking for “intelligent” students to admit. These program directors and admissions counselors are attuned to a specific range of scores and this can negatively affect applicants who fall below the average. These students may not have been given the opportunity to exemplify their full potential in a concise application where success-predicting factors were unable to set them apart, like the examples mentioned by Goleman.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take an SAT prep course. I did the summer before my senior year of high school and it taught me the strategies necessary to bring my score up 200 points, making me a more competitive applicant for the universities applied to. Rather, I think we, as an education system, and as leaders in our society, should strive to redefine what we have identified as predictors of “success,” and consider how these achievements may be valuable towards helping us to achieve goals in the long run.