Opinion | Dear Students, SAT Scores Do Not Define You

Jonah Chiss, Max Low, Staff Writers

Spring break is supposed to be a time of relaxation. A time of tranquility. A short respite in an otherwise stressful school year. Unfortunately, many juniors have a different story to tell regarding their spring break: one of studying, studying and more studying. SATs are just around the corner, and students will do anything, even abandon their sacred spring break getaways, in the hopes of receiving a good score.

This fanaticism over SAT scores is dangerous. Students end up valuing themselves as a person based on how well they can do, and if they end up doing poorly, they can be crushed. It’s a toxic culture. Not only that, but conflating SAT scores with intelligence is entirely unfounded.

Standardized testing is simply an inadequate method of determining a student’s intelligence. There are too many factors that play into a student’s score to call it a true measure of their intellect. In fact, in too many cases, otherwise intelligent students will find themselves struggling on standardized tests.

One student who brought this to our attention was Sam Darer, a current senior at ETHS, who decided not to include his standardized test scores in his college application.

“Many people, including myself, do well in a classroom environment, yet seem to struggle more when it comes to testing,” Darer notes.

One reason this transpires so often is due to the unnecessary stress these tests bring.

Even the most intellectually gifted students get stressed out, and stress inevitably leads to underperformance. 

“Students may underperform if faced with a stressful situation, such as preparing for a [standardized] test,” Darer adds.

It’s just one tiny little data point in your entire [application]. Everything you do, all the work you do here, it’s not necessarily reflected. This test is not a measure of you and how smart you are. You’re so much more than this test.

— ETHS Director of Assessment Carrie Levy

But why are standardized tests so stressful? One reason is that they take extensive preparation, discipline and repetition to master. The prospect of having to go through this process can be incredibly nerve-racking.

Additionally, standardized tests have a notable impact on students’ college options and other post-high school plans. This power that standardized test scores have – the ability to dictate a student’s future – is often daunting, dizzying and, overall, stress-inducing. Although many schools have recently switched their application policy to test-optional, students who decide not to submit their scores continue to risk being passed over for good test-takers. 

While many colleges have claimed test-optional applicants have an equal chance to be accepted, as long as the rest of their application is strong, however, the fact remains that not submitting a score typically implies a poorer performance on standardized tests. There’s no doubt colleges take this into account when making their application decisions. 

Another reason students often struggle when it comes to standardized tests is that they don’t have the same resources as others. You see, students aren’t born test-takers. It’s a skill that you have to learn, a game you have to play, and the best test-takers typically learn it through tutoring. In this respect, affluent students, who can pay for extensive, high-level tutoring, have a huge advantage.

Carrie Levy, the Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment at ETHS explains this lack of equity in standardized testing, emphasizing the benefits that students reap simply by coming from wealth.

“Students who come from a wealthier background might have more access to different experiences,” Levy comments, “and the questions are inherently embedded in prior knowledge.”

This trend of affluent students performing better on standardized tests is also strongly backed by the data. According to a 2014 SAT data collection, the difference between students whose parents have a salary of $200,000 or more and students whose parents have a salary of $20,000 or less is, on average, 400 points. That’s the difference between a 1200 and a 1600. The difference between a pretty good score and a perfect score. 400 points are momentous.

In an attempt to address these blatant disparities, ETHS has implemented a multitude of policies throughout the years. Still, Levy wishes she was able to do more.

“We do Wildkit Futures Day. All juniors do the PSAT/NMSQT. We have some tutoring services available. But when it comes to the test itself, there’s not much you can do. I mean, it comes from the College Board,” Levy says.

Although there are many free resources that students can take advantage of for test preparation, at the end of the day, nothing will top the quality of a 1-on-1 paid tutoring session that focuses on the individual student’s skills. 

Whether it’s due to stress or a lack of resources, we want to emphasize that standardized tests are not a true measure of intelligence. If you yourself are a student who struggles with standardized tests, remember this: your scores do not define you. 

On this note, Levy had one final message for students having trouble with standardized tests.

“It’s just one tiny little data point in your entire [application]. Everything you do, all the work you do here, it’s not necessarily reflected. You’re smarter than this test… this test is not a measure of you and how smart you are,” Levy concludes. “You’re so much more than this test.”