No one likes to be defined by numbers, especially in the context of standardized testing scores. However, these scores provide an impartial rationality to what is a largely unpredictable college admissions process.
Accomplishments and extracurriculars are extremely subjective. An activity that a student puts their heart and soul into might amaze one admissions officer but leave another unfazed. A student’s ability to win competitions or excel in a musical instrument is controlled by many variables: the environment in which the student grew up in, the school they attend, or the teachers and mentors they have had access to.
Essays are also subjective. Every reader will have a different response to an essay, cultivated by personal bias.
Even grades are variable. Every teacher across the country has a distinct teaching style and varies in the difficulty of their classwork. An AP U.S. History class at Diamond Bar High School is completely different than that same course in a different school.
Standardized testing does have variability, but the variables are not as reliant on external factors. Having such tests gives admissions officers a way to evaluate students objectively and consistently.
Standardized tests serve as indicators of a student’s potential, both in college and beyond. A study done by Vanderbilt researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow showed that SAT scores correlate with future income and success in the workforce. Another study by College Board showed that college success was better predicted by using both SAT scores and high school GPA, rather than high school GPA alone.
I admit, I took an SAT prep class, an advantage that was made possible to me because of my socioeconomic status. This practice is unfair to those who can’t afford such classes, and it is true that students who come from wealthier backgrounds disproportionately receive higher scores.
However, variables in standardized testing are easier to control than in other areas of admission. Resources such as Khan Academy help level the playing field, and there are other ways to offer free test prep classes in schools for those who can’t afford them. If a student is able to get an internship because their parents have connections, or has the money to pay for coaching that propels them to become a nationally ranked debater, it is harder to provide equal opportunity to lower income students.
Though some people criticize standardized tests for their unreasonable cost, both the SAT and the ACT have fee waiver programs for students who fall within a certain income bracket to ensure that both tests are accessible to all students.
Obviously, standardized testing should not be the end-all be-all qualifying factor to college admissions—and it’s not. Plenty of students have been accepted into top universities (even without resorting to bribes) with less-than-perfect test scores. Parkland shooting survivor and activist David Hogg made headlines for being accepted into Harvard despite having a relatively low SAT score, and his admission was still well-deserved.
Still, standardized testing should remain as a means of objectively demonstrating a students’ ability. Though there are issues with the way these tests reflect income disparity, getting rid of these tests completely is not the solution.