Born To Fail?

If you were to ask any of my high school teachers to describe me as a student, you would probably hear some of the following: driven, diligent, conscientious, hard-working. I do not believe that I am an inherently gifted student; however, I do believe that I am a student who wanted to succeed above my peers and was therefore required to put in the extra hours of work and studying if I wanted to do well — which I did. Ultimately, my persistence paid off as I graduated in the top 1% of the 900 students in my high school class and obtained a perfect 4.0 GPA with a college-level course load. But we all know that when it comes to college admissions, GPA is only a part of the picture. The SAT is also of utmost importance, and of course I also held myself to high expectations in this realm.

I’m sure by now you are familiar with the SAT, but let me refresh your memory anyways: the SAT is an aptitude test intended to assess reading, writing and mathematics skills needed for academic success in university. Unfortunately, aptitude tests have never been my area of expertise, and the SAT was no exception. I cannot attribute my shortcomings to any one thing — perhaps I had test anxiety or was a poor test taker — but my countless hours of performing SAT practice tests seemed to minimally help my SAT score. And unfortunately, the few colleges I planned on applying to listed strict SAT cut-off scores, which I scored just under.

I felt that I was essentially being told by colleges that no amount of diligence and hard-work could make up for a sub-par SAT score. Luckily, I am able to say that I am now in a university where, although my SAT score was worse than the majority of students who are accepted, my course grades are consistently above the majority of students in my classes. I also know many students who obtained exceptional SAT scores and less than stellar GPAs and consistently do poorly in their college courses.

So this leaves me concerned that colleges will overlook a poor GPA in favor of a high SAT score, and will disregard a high GPA due to a lower SAT score. But maybe my friends and I are simply the exception? Are there others who earned high GPAs and a poor SAT score, yet still do poorly in college? And are there students who get low GPAs, but will suddenly succeed in college because they obtained a high SAT score? According to a study released by the National Association for College Admission Counselling, the resounding answer is “no”.

The study examined the outcomes of optional standardized testing submission policies among 33 public and private universities, specifically their effects on cumulative GPA and graduation rates. The study found that among 123,000 students at 33 institutions, those who did not submit their SAT/ACT score compared to those who did differed by only five one-hundredths of a GPA point, and only six-tenths of one percent in graduation rates — trivial differences. The study also found that despites wide variations in test scores, students with strong high school GPAs generally perform well in college, despite modest or low testing. In comparison, students with weak high school GPAs earn lower GPAs in college and have lower graduation rates, even those with markedly stronger testing (Hiss 2014).

SAT testing is not necessarily negligible, but should have less of an emphasis in the decision of college admissions especially when SAT scores markedly differ from students’ high school GPAs. SAT scores can be influenced by a multitude of factors such as low socioeconomic status which may prevent students from having adequate access to materials such as SAT practice tests which help students prepare for the exam. Test anxiety may also cause a dip in SAT scores leading to the inability to concentrate during such a high stakes exam. About 1/3rd of colleges are currently test-optional, but I strongly believe all colleges should de-emphasize the importance of test scores and rely more heavily on a student’s high school GPA — especially when one three-hour test can be influenced by extraneous factors, while a four-year measure is more likely to be exemplary of a student’s ability to succeed.

Hiss, W. C. “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admission Offices.” NACAC, 2014.

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