University Applicants Scoring Lower on New SATs
> 5/12/2006 11:29:41 AM

New statistics reveal that students applying for fall admission to some of this country's top universities scored lower on the SAT than in previous years, and many academic counselors attribute the decline to anxiety over an expanded format. Several major universities report that mean scores dropped as many as 15 points, and the most common related complaints involved the test's length, which grew from two sections to three and now includes impromptu essay requirements in the math and verbal sections which are designed to better prepare students for the many papers they will be writing in college.

These updates added 35 minutes to the three-hour test time and raised its price from $28 to $41, resulting in fewer test takers overall and a lower instance of retakes, which improve average scores by thirty points. Students reported difficulties maintaining focus during the test's final sections, and some now argue that price increases futher skew results toward students in high-income brackets, resulting in lower relative scores for minorities and the poor, even among applicants to the nation's highest-caliber schools. While testmakers initially worked under the claim that results measured underlying mental capacity rather than preparedness, the same companies now record significant profits from sales of study guides and courses offered to "teach the test" in high school. Studies demonstrate that extensive (and often expensive) test prep can boost scores by 100 points or more.

These findings bring new attention to the widely acknowledged fact that no exam can serve as a universal measure of merit. Multiple studies have concluded that high school GPA is, in fact, a more accurate predictor of first year college performance, but the SAT is still accepted by most colleges as the standard aptitude test for potential freshmen. Collected data also suggests that admission rates would not change significantly if colleges considered high school records at the exclusion of standardized test scores, and schools that have dropped the test as an application factor report greater diversity among the incoming class, further hinting at the inherent cultural disparities which affect SAT scoring, particularly among African-Americans.

SAT scores registered dramatic changes at points in the past, and scores on the also-popular ACT registered no collective decline last year, so the current shift may simply be a symptom of transition. Some students praise the new essay components for focusing on personal aptitude rather than collected knowledge, and many register little complaint about length, as the exhausting test-taking process has always been a primary source of anxiety for high school seniors. Still, the very fact that administrators felt obligated to alter the test's format may indicate that the period of near-universal reliance on SAT scores to guide college admissions is coming to a close.


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