Standard but not equal

Helen Hansen

The past decade has seen a growing movement to remove the SAT from college admissions requirements. In its place, colleges and universities would require applicants to take three or four SAT subject tests. More colleges and universities should throw out the SAT and make subject tests the focus in the admissions process.

My initial response to the SAT relevance debate was to staunchly support the SAT, the standardized test that I studied so hard for in a six-week prep course. I still remember the day my score was posted online. To me, that score validated all the hard work, money and time that my parents and I put into preparing for the mother of all college admissions tests.

But that is exactly what is wrong with the SAT. Charles Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in his essay “Abolish the SAT” that “far too many students see a high score on the SAT as an expression of their own merit, not an achievement underwritten by the dumb luck of birth.” The “dumb luck of birth” Murray is referring to, in part, is a student’s parents. Statistically, “approximately 90 percent of students with 700+ scores had at least one parent with a college degree” and “over half had a parent with a graduate degree,” according to a 2006 report by the College Board. I did well on the SAT because my parents could afford a prep course and one-on-one coaching.

Many have argued — students, teachers and parents alike — that expensive coaching is the only way to succeed on this test of tricks, and my SAT experience confirms this. My score increased by more than 300 points from the first pre-coaching practice test to the actual SAT. My coach did not teach me anything about literature or trigonometry or grammar. Instead, he taught me how to recognize a certain kind of problem and how to know which tools to pull out of my bag to solve it.

SAT subject tests, on the other hand, reflect an applicant’s real knowledge, and they require a serious application to a subject the student has studied in high school. There is nothing tricky about knowing what the Monroe Doctrine is for the U.S. History subject test. Students can study chemistry or Spanish on their own and still succeed on these tests. Murray also sees an added benefit of colleges emphasizing subject tests over the SAT.

“The substitution of achievement tests for the SAT will put a spotlight on the quality of the local high school’s curriculum,” Murray said. “If achievement test scores are getting all of the parents’ attention in the college admissions process, the courses that prepare for those achievement tests will get more of their attention as well, and the pressure for those courses to improve will increase.”

Having SAT subject tests as the keystone of college admissions would have a plethora of benefits. Students would save themselves a whole lot of useless studying and gain deserved confidence in their academic ability; parents would save money by not having to hire expensive coaches; high schools would be pressured to improve their academics; and colleges and universities would admit more socioeconomically and culturally diverse students.

Several top national universities have already made the switch to SAT subject tests. Some of the most notable include Wake Forest, Kansas State, DePaul, George Mason and the University of Mississippi. Perhaps it is time for the University of Texas to consider adding itself to the list.

Hansen is a Plan II and public relations freshman.