Most adults today have had some exposure to the SAT. Although the test been around since 1926, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the SAT became a rite of passage for just about every high schooler getting ready for college.
In the past decade of tutoring students for the SAT, I’ve heard just about every misconception out there, some more damaging than others. Here are a few SAT testing myths that can make or break a student’s performance…
- “The SAT is a test of a student’s intelligence and/or his or her preparedness for college.” I hear this sentiment all too often. Even if, deep down, you know that the SAT isn’t a true measure of intelligence or college readiness, there’s a certain weight attached to SAT scores that is undeniable. Yet under the scrutiny of research and examination, this perception doesn’t always hold up to reality. Experts debate whether intelligence can be measured at all—and there is no formally-recognized correlation between SAT scores and IQ. Further, many factors influence college readiness. In my opinion (which is shared among many of my colleagues in higher education) standardized tests like the SAT are among the lowest on the totem pole.
- “The SAT is like other tests you take in school.” That’s a big N-O-! The tests students take in school are usually created with the intention of assessing mastery of specific knowledge that’s been explicitly delivered at some point in time. I like to think of the SAT as an academically-motivated game of Pacman. Your job is to gobble up as many points as possible, using whatever methods and strategies are at your disposal. Would your math teacher want you to work backward from the answer choices, or show your work as she taught you in class? The SAT doesn’t care how you get your answer, as long as you get the point.
- “You can’t guess on the SAT.” If you took the SAT as long ago as I did (or as recently as February 2016), you were awarded one point for every correct answer and deducted ¼ point for every incorrect answer. Answers left blank were worth zero positive or negative points. This meant that it was better to leave an answer blank than to take a wild guess.
For reasons that I won’t go into here, about four years ago the SAT decided to do away with the complicated scoring rules in favor of a simpler model (+1 correct, +0 incorrect). Nowadays, an answer left blank is worth the same amount as an incorrect answer — so why not take advantage of the 25% odds? This allows students to focus their time and energy on the questions they know how to do, and exercise their process of elimination skills on the ones they don’t.
- “If you have good grades, you’ll probably get a good SAT score.” Grades are determined by many factors, such as classwork, homework completion, participation, etc. The SAT measures exactly none of these things. Frankly, it’s much easier to get an A in most classes than it is to ace the SAT.
- “A stellar SAT score pretty much guarantees your college acceptance.” I’ll never forget the day I got the call informing me that one of my students, who earned a 1590 on the SAT (yes, 1590 out of 1600), did not get into the big public university he had his heart set on. Why you may ask? That was the only thing on his resume. He made A’s and B’s (an occasional C), so his GPA left something to be desired. He had no extracurricular activities. His personal statement might as well have been computer-generated… but the boy could test! I warn students just like him about cultivating a strong extracurricular repertoire every day. If he had heeded my warning and joined a club, focused on his grades, and put some real thought into his essays, I have no doubt he would have gotten into all of his top choice colleges. But I’ve got news for you, folks, applicants cannot rely on SAT scores alone. In today’s climate, where community service and leadership experience trump test scores 99% of the time, even a 1590 might not cut it.
- “Some colleges prefer the SAT and some prefer the ACT.” Not always. While SAT scores are often a requirement for out-of-state schools, private universities, specific programs (e.g., the engineering program at a large state school) and/or for merit-based scholarships, in-state universities have been following a trend of waiving SAT scores for students who graduate with as low as a 3.0 GPA. My best recommendation is to check the specific admissions requirements for the schools and programs you apply for ahead of time.
The PSAT/NMSQT, which is taken in 11th grade, is a little different. NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, and in addition to being great practice for the SAT, a score in approximately the top 1% of the country can qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship.
- “SAT is required for college admissions.” On-Track offers a range of tutoring services to fit your family’s needs, schedule, and budget. We have tutoring available one-on-one, in pairs, and in small groups. Our tutors work with you on scheduling and can come to your home, certain school campuses, or our North Scottsdale location. We do not require a minimum number of hours per month. Unlike other companies, you do not have to pay in advance; you pay only for the tutoring you receive.
- “The PSAT is a high-stakes test.” First, it’s important to know that there are three versions of the PSAT: PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT. Intuitively, the PSAT 8/9 is taken by eighth and ninth graders, while the PSAT 10 is for tenth graders. Most students take the PSAT 10 as sophomores, but the PSAT 8/9 is much less commonly administered. At any rate, these two tests are just for practice. They aren’t tied to scholarships, and your scores are only visible to you, your parents, and your guidance counselor. That being said, you should still do your best on these tests so that you get the most accurate data regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Your College Board account can link to Kahn Academy to offer personalized practice for the SAT, so you really want your PSAT to represent your best performance.
- “You can’t prepare for the SAT.” It always shocks me when I hear this comment. I think it’s rooted in Myth #1. Not only can you prepare for the SAT, you absolutely should. Research shows that students who study specifically for the SAT outperform their counterparts who don’t just about 100% of the time.
If you are a current 11th grader and want to get in an SAT prep course over Winter Break, I will be running an intensive SAT Master Class from 12/21 to 1/4. Register here today (deadline 12/20): https://jonesgordon.org/sat.