The problem with America's college entrance exam (2023)


In the U.S., your SAT score is hugely important. But what does it *really* measure?

Become a Video Lab member!

The SAT college extrance exam is a gatekeeper of opportunity. But this wasn't always the case.

Here are some sources I found useful when reporting out this piece:

* The Big Test is a well known book written by Nicholas Lemann, but a few years before he published this in 1999, he wrote this piece for The Atlantic:

* Here's the story behind the SAT overhaul:

* This research paper, from Raj Chetty and colleagues, looks at the role of colleges in intergenerational mobility:

* The SAT helps predict first-year GPA to an extent — but not for all students. We didn't include this in our video, but this piece covers the research that shows the SAT isn't predictive for a huge portion of students: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out

Watch our full video catalog:
Follow Vox on Facebook:
Or Twitter:


These 50 cards represent every person who took the SAT college entrance exam in 2017.

In America, this score --.

This ranking of students -- is hugely important.

Elite schools like Yale or Harvard, select the large majority of their students from this pile -- the top 1 percent of test takers.


It's not just super elite.


A public flagship state school, like the University of Georgia, admits most of its students from this pile.


Even a less selective school, like Wichita State University, admits most of its students from this pile.


Three of these ranges are higher than the average score.


Why people pay lots of money to train for the test with companies like Princeton, Review, Kaplan, and PrepScholar.

A slightly higher score can make a big difference.


Also why some really rich people got caught, paying lots of money to help their kids cheat on the test.

"Dozens of coaches, actors, and CEOs..." "Felicity Huffman accused of paying $15,000 to have someone either take the exam for their child, or to correct their child's answers.

Afterward.." Your place in this ranking can have a huge impact on what opportunities come.

Your way.

So it’s worth asking...

What exactly does the SAT measure? What? Does this score actually say about you? To answer this question,? We have to start with this man: Carl Brigham.

He was a young psychologist during World War I, who was obsessed with measuring human intelligence.

He, would devise puzzles for soldiers that supposedly measured their intelligence by testing whether they could decode symbols, draw missing parts of a picture, or even complete.


He concluded that white people of English, Scottish, and Dutch descent were smartest.


The very bottom were black people and recent immigrants from Poland and Italy.

He ignored the fact that some test takers didn't speak.


So answering a question like "How.

Many are 60 guns and 5 guns" could be difficult.

He ignored how some people were barred from receiving an adequate education.

Which meant some puzzles, like this one, could be quite challenging.

He just assumed the scores reflected the innate intelligence of different races.


Because of this.

He wrote that black people were so much less intelligent.

That America should worry about "racial admixture", which would "incorporate the negro into our racial stock", -- and "taint".

The population.

After World War I, Brigham, wrote a new test to measure the intelligence of prospective college students.

He included, word and number puzzles, like: Pick.

The three words below that are most related: Chops, liver, round, fore-quarter, rump, sirloin.

Yeah, I, don't know, either.

Anyway, Brigham's exam was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The SAT.

The SAT wasn't very popular at first.

In 1941, just 10,000 people took the exam.

That was just 1 percent of high school seniors.

Most colleges just didn't need.


They didn't have that many applicants, partially, because less than 10 percent of people Americans went to college.


They could spend more time with each application.

And many elite schools administered their own entrance.


Then, World, War, II, ended.

Millions of troops returned to the US.


There was a new benefit.

White veterans could take advantage of: the GI Bill — which helped them pay for college.

And college enrollment, skyrocketed.

All of a sudden, colleges had way more applications to sort through.


They needed a tool to help them figure out who to accept.


They started requiring the SAT, which gave them some numerical way to rank applicants.


The College Board recognized that Americans didn't love the idea of an "intelligence test" determining their future.


They started saying their exam, measured college preparedness.

And every few years.

They proved it -- by saying their exam, along with high school grades, were a good predictor of how well students do in college.

They still do this.

For example.

Here's that analysis from this year.

It shows that high school GPA alone gets us about.

Halfway to predicting college GPA.

But the College Board sold schools on this next part: If.

We consider SAT scores along with high school GPA.

This prediction can get a bit better.

And colleges bought into this rebranding, and started asking for SAT scores.

In 1941.

Just 10,000 students took the SAT.

By 1950, 80,000 students took the exam.

By 1960, 800,000 students took the SAT.

By, the next decade.

It rose to a million.


More than 2 million students take the exam, each year.

And as the competition for college ramped up, the applications got stronger.

In 1982, the average high school graduate completed Algebra or maybe Algebra 2.

By 2004.

The average student was closer to Trigonometry.

Also, more students had extracurriculars on their applications.

In 1992.

Just 19 percent of high school students were leaders in an extracurricular activity.

Just 12 years later, in 2004, that number doubled.

As the competition got.

Stiffer, students started applying to way more schools.

In 1967, about 40 percent of students applied to more than two schools.


It's more than 80 percent of students.


A decent chunk of them apply to more than 6 schools.

All of this overwhelmed admissions, offices.


They started to rely even more on the SATs.

In 1993.

46 percent of schools gave "considerable importance" to SAT scores.

By 2005.

It was 59 percent.

But looming over the increasing weight of this number.

Was this other thing.

The SAT seemed to measure.


It's apparent in the data.

Here's a chart of the average SAT scores by family income.

Students, whose families earn less than $20,000 score around 890 -- way below average.


As we move up the income brackets, students score higher and higher.

The wealthiest students -- whose parents earn more than $200,000 -- score.

An average of 1150.

Now, defenders of the SAT have often said: there's nothing wrong with the test.


They say this score is just reflecting the inequality in America.


That's not wrong.

We can follow that logic.

Up the chain.

We can start with America's highly unequal neighborhoods.

Schools in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be under-resourced.

And students from more affluent neighborhoods and schools tend to score higher on the SAT.

In turn, students, with better SAT scores, go to more selective colleges.


This system is a cycle.

When, Stanford researcher, Raj Chetty and his colleagues tracked people born in the early-1980s.

He found that these people -- who went to the most selective colleges, -- -- had parents who earned, on average, $171,000 a year.

The parents of these people, who went to selective public colleges, earned $87,000.


Those who attended community colleges had parents who earned $67,000 a year.

And through this system, that wealth was passed.


Chetty and his colleagues found that students who graduated from these elite colleges earned, on average, $82,500 a year by their early-30s.

Those, who went to a selective public college, earned half that -- $41,600.


Those who went to a community college were at about $30,000.

But Chetty and his colleagues found that.

If low-income student gets the opportunity to attend a more selective, school, they're able to graduate -- and earn just as much money as their classmates.

In 2016, the College Board redesigned, the SAT.

The old test tried to trip up test-takers -- for example, asking about the meaning of obscure words.

Like "acrimonious." The new one tries to test what you've learned in school -- to try to make it less of an intelligence.


For example, it'll show you a sentence: like: The jungle has an intense clustering of bugs.


Then ask: What does "intense" most nearly mean? Emotional Concentrated Brilliant Determined Still, your SAT score measures.

How well you'll do in college, to a degree.

It, also measures where you grew up -- and what opportunities you had.

But it’s, also a tool that keeps this inequality: machine, going., College, Board.

President David Coleman sees this happening.


Recently wrote: "We need a far humbler view of the SAT.

They should never be more than one factor in an admissions decision.

Low scores should never be a veto on a student’s life." The SAT was created in the pursuit of precision.

An effort to measure what we're capable of -- to predict.

What we can do.

What, we might do.


We've forgotten is that, often, that can't be untangled from where we've been, what we've been through, and what we’ve been given.


What was the purpose of the entrance exam? ›

A college entrance exam tests your student on their academic skills such as reading, writing and math. They take a few hours to complete, and your student will finish them in one sitting (with a break or two, of course).

How important are the college entrance exams? ›

College entrance exams are an important part of the admissions process for most colleges and universities. By providing a standardized measure of academic ability, these exams help admissions officers make informed decisions about which students are most likely to succeed in college.

How does the SAT affect students? ›

SAT scores help colleges compare students from different high schools. Your scores show your strengths and readiness for college work. But remember standardized test scores are just one part of your college application, along with grades, course rigor, and recommendations.

Does America have college entrance exams? ›

The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is the more famous of the two college entrance tests - the other being the ACT.

Why are most colleges test optional? ›

One of the reasons we made the decision to go test-optional is that it provides students the ability to decide if they feel the test is an accurate reflection of their academic ability. About 60 percent of our students choose not to submit a test score.

Why is it important to take a college entrance exam quizlet? ›

The standardized college entrance exams allow colleges to compare you with other prospective students.

What is the most important thing in college admissions? ›

Courses and Grades

A student's grades in college-preparatory classes remain the most significant factor in college admission decisions.

What is a good college entrance exam score? ›

The test is scored on a scale of 1-36, with the average score being 21. A 29 is a very competitive score for higher end schools, but the most exclusive institutions will want a 32 or higher. Basically, scoring near the average will be just fine for the purposes of admission into most schools.

What is the difference between a SAT and ACT? ›

The SAT allows more time per question for every section of the test, whereas the ACT requires you to move faster through the questions. Additionally, the ACT has more questions than the SAT, but the SAT questions often require more lengthy reading and problem solving (so they take a little longer to complete).

Why are colleges getting rid of SAT? ›

For SAT critics, test-optional admission at colleges and universities took far too long to become prevalent. The test has been accused of putting students from underrepresented communities of color at a disadvantage for years.

Do colleges care about SAT anymore? ›

According to FairTest, more than 1,750 schools will have ACT/SAT-optional policies in place for fall 2023, meaning that applicants can choose whether to submit test scores and have them be considered in a college's admissions process.

What is the disadvantage of SAT? ›

The downside of taking the SAT or ACT to practice for life after high school, though, is that the tests can cause intense anxiety that can negatively impact scores, the same scores which many colleges still consider important to determining whether to admit an applicant. 3.) They don't predict overall college success.

Why did colleges get rid of standardized testing? ›

At the time, many college officials noted that health concerns and other logistics associated with test-taking made them want to reduce student stress and risk. Concerns about racial equity also factored into many decisions.

What is the hardest entrance exam in the US? ›

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

This exam, popularly known as the GRE, has long been ranked among the top most difficult in the world. ETS (Educational Testing Service) administers the exam, which assesses the candidate's verbal reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking abilities.

Is it necessary to give SAT to study in USA? ›

You can still study in USA without SAT scores. Few universities in the USA and colleges accept international students without SAT scores for courses. Admissions to the best universities in the United States are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each institution has its own process for deciding which students to accept.

Why are colleges becoming test blind? ›

Why the Cal State Schools Went Test-Blind. CSU had already employed a similar policy during the 2021–22 and 2022–23 academic years because of COVID-19. Now, the university system is extending the policy, citing its efforts to promote equity for students from all backgrounds.

What are the cons of test optional? ›

Some cons include the ambiguity and stress some students experience when making the decision to send or not send their scores. Also, some schools report a higher number of applicants each year, which could theoretically increase competition.

Why is Harvard test optional? ›

Test optional admissions means that a college allows the applicant to decide whether they will submit SAT or ACT scores. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard adopted a test optional policy in order to make admissions fairer and more accessible.

What is one reason students take SAT Subject Tests? ›

Colleges use S A T Subject Test scores to gain insight into your academic background and achievement in specific subject areas. They use this information in combination with other factors—high school grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, essays, etc. —to make admission or placement decisions.

How do students incorrectly prepare for thinking about college? ›

How do a lot of students incorrectly prepare for thinking about college? They focus on the experience of what college might present to them instead of looking at how might their college choice affects their future.

Why is it important to pass the exam? ›

Exams build confidence

Exams develop confidence which increases a student's personality in a hard-working manner. Confidence comes from knowing that you are perfect at what you do. During exam time, many students become stressed about their exam performance, and they do hard work to try to give their best performance.

What happens if you get accepted to college but don't go? ›

Most college acceptances have a kind of “expiration date” to them. For example, if you do not formally commit to attending the school by submitting a deposit, then your acceptance will be canceled for the year in which you applied. Schools will also rescind any financial aid packages they offered you.

What grade do colleges look at the most? ›

Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.

What math is on a college entrance exam? ›

The topics on a math placement test may include linear equations and inequalities, exponents and polynomials, factoring, roots and radicals, quadratic equations, fractions, and order of operations. All of these topics must be sufficiently covered without the use of a calculator to pass the placement test.

What is the lowest SAT score colleges will accept? ›

Less selective public institutions, as well as many small liberal arts colleges, regularly accept applicants in the 950-1050 range. Public universities in your state might also accept residents with scores on the lower end of the scale depending on their policies and your other qualifications.

What SAT score is required for Harvard? ›

Harvard University SAT Requirements

The SAT requirements for Harvard University are a 1,500 to 1,600 composite score, combining the reading and writing, and math sections together.

Do most colleges prefer the SAT or ACT? ›

Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT nor the ACT is harder than the other. Different students tend to do better on one test over the other.

How many times can I take the SAT? ›

Students can take the SAT as many times as they want. We recommend that they take it at least twice—in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. Most students get a higher score the second time, and most colleges consider a student's highest SAT score when making admission decisions.

Do SAT and ACT matter anymore? ›

Even as many colleges temporarily extend their test-optional admissions policies another year, the ACT and SAT still can greatly affect merit-based scholarships and college admissions. Test optional really is only for those excited to pay full price.

Why are SAT scores unfair? ›

The main charge of bias raised for the SAT stems from persistent score disparities. There are both racial and gender gaps in average test scores, which causes many to assume that the test itself is unfair. The numbers themselves seem to support these claims.

Why is the SAT getting banned? ›

It is not a Permaban

In other words, this isn't a permaban, and it makes sense. What spawned the ban in the first place were complaints that students with disabilities did not have equal opportunity or access to take the exam during Covid.

Is the SAT discriminatory? ›

A new study of college admission tests finds that the SAT and ACT tests discriminate against low-income, minority and female students in college admissions at selective colleges.

Is college Board getting rid of the SAT? ›

The College Board will permanently eliminate the SAT Subject Tests or SAT with essay to better adapt to the pandemic-era admissions process, the company announced last Tuesday.

Will Harvard eliminate the SAT? ›

Harvard announced in 2020 that standardized tests would be optional for a year as students faced limited access to testing sites. It later extended the policy for another year, and this week said tests won't be required through 2026 amid continued challenges.

What colleges stopped looking at SAT scores? ›

12 Colleges That Don't Require SAT Or ACT In The US
  • Pitzer College. ...
  • New York University. ...
  • Hampshire College. ...
  • Cornell College. ...
  • University of the People. ...
  • George Washington University. ...
  • Montana State University. ...
  • Colorado College.

Is the SAT becoming obsolete? ›

Is the SAT Becoming Obsolete? No, it's not. According to the 2022 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report, 1.7 million students in the high school class of 2022 took the SAT at least once. This is an increase from 1.5 million in the class of 2021.

Is it OK not to take SAT? ›

If I don't take the SAT or ACT, will it hurt my application? If the college does not require the test, then generally NO, it will not hurt your application. But know that without test scores other parts of your application will become more important.

How many colleges do not require SAT or ACT? ›

Top 100 Colleges That Don't Require The SAT/ACT

According to FairTest's website, there are 1,843 colleges in the US that offer test-optional or test-free policies.

Why do people hate standardized testing? ›

Standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience and human learning to a number or set of numbers. This is dehumanizing. A student may have a deep knowledge of a particular subject, but receive no acknowledgement for it because his or her test score may have been low.

Is SAT still required for 2023? ›

But for now, the short answer is that most colleges are not requiring SAT or ACT test scores for the class of 2023. We will have to wait to see what happens for the class of 2024 and beyond. Looking for help with the college search and application process?

Which is the No 1 toughest exam in the world? ›

Top 10 Hardest Exams in the World
  • Gaokao Exam in China.
  • IIT JEE Advanced.
  • Civil Services Exam (CSE)
  • GATE.
  • GRE.
  • Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
  • ICAI CA Exams.
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
Feb 17, 2023

Which is the 2 toughest exam in the world? ›

Recent Update: IIT-JEE, UPSC CSE, and GATE are among the world's most difficult exams. In the ranking, the IIT JEE test is ranked first in India and second in the globe.

Which country has the toughest education system? ›

The countries with the hardest and most difficult education systems are:
  • South Korea.
  • Japan.
  • Singapore.
  • Hong Kong.
  • Finland, etc.

Why did colleges drop the SAT? ›

Acting CSU Chancellor Steve Relyea agreed, saying the move “aligns with the California State University's continued efforts to level the playing field and provide greater access to a high-quality college degree for students from all backgrounds.” He added, “We are eliminating our reliance on a high-stress, high-stakes ...

Which colleges don t require SAT in usa? ›

Top 100 Colleges That Don't Require The SAT/ACT
  • Brown University.
  • Columbia University.
  • Cornell University.
  • Dartmouth College.
  • Harvard University.
  • University of Pennsylvania.
  • Princeton University.
  • Yale University.
Mar 15, 2023

Can I get full scholarship in USA without SAT? ›

Can I get a scholarship in the USA without the SAT? Yes, US universities grant scholarships without requiring SAT scores based on students' high school GPAs. How do I apply for a scholarship in the USA?

What are entrance exams in Japan? ›

Getting Into a Japanese High School and High School Entrance Exams. “There are three types of recommended entrances: tangan suisen, heigan suisen, and supootsu (sports) suisen. A tangan suisen (often abbreviated to just suisen) is an exam for your child's first choice school.

When was the College Entrance Examination Board created? ›

The College Board was founded as the College Entrance Examination Board in 1900 to bring order to the process of college admissions, which in the 19th century had been chaotic and inefficient owing to the wide curricular independence enjoyed by public schools across the United States and the variety of admissions ...

What is the Korean college entrance exam? ›

Commonly called the CSAT or in Korean, Suneung, the College Scholastic Ability Test, is the most common national-level entrance exam in South Korea, taking place once every year.

When first introduced as a college entrance exam in 1926 what did the SAT stand for? ›

From 1926-1993, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. However, the College Board changed the name in the 1990s because "aptitude" implied that the SAT measured innate intelligence.

What happens if you fail college entrance exam in Japan? ›

Students who fail may spend a year or more studying to retake the examination. They are colloquially referred to as rōnin. Yobiko are similar to juku except for differences such as curriculum, legal status, and the main type of students who attend.

What is the Japanese equivalent of the SAT? ›

The SAT is officially known in Japanese as simply Special Unit (特殊部隊, Tokushu Butai) and individual teams officially take the name of the police to which they are assigned; an example would be the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Special Unit (警視庁特殊部隊, Keishicho Tokushu Butai, Metropolitan Police Department Special ...

Do we need SAT for Japan? ›

Most universities require you to take the EJU (Examination for Japanese University Admission—for International Students), Japan's equivalent of the SAT; tests can be conducted in Singapore. The JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) is also often required.

Who owns the SAT test? ›

The SAT is wholly owned, developed, and published by the College Board, a private, not-for-profit organization in the United States.

Why does the SAT exist? ›

The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student's readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.

Is the ACT better than the SAT? ›

Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT nor the ACT is harder than the other.

Which is the toughest exam in the world? ›

1. Gaokao. The Gaokao is a college admission exam in China that is famed for being one of the top ten most difficult exams in the world. Due to the difficulty of the exam, some European and American colleges have begun to accept Gaokao marks.

Which is the most difficult exam in world? ›

Top 10 Hardest Exams in the World
  • Gaokao Exam in China.
  • IIT JEE Advanced.
  • Civil Services Exam (CSE)
  • GATE.
  • GRE.
  • Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
  • ICAI CA Exams.
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
Feb 17, 2023

How many hours do Korean students sleep? ›

Students in grades 5-6 reported an sTST of 8.15±1.12 hours, those in grades 7-9 8.17±1.20 hours, and students in grades 10-12 6.87±1.40 hours.

Why does the SAT not stand for anything? ›

SAT doesn't mean anything!

So they changed its name to “Scholastic Assessment Test,” keeping the initials the same. A few years later, they became aware that “Scholastic Assessment Test” was redundant, repetitive, and said the same thing twice! So they made one more change: now it stands for nothing.

What is the minimum SAT score for Harvard? ›


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Carlyn Walter

Last Updated: 10/22/2023

Views: 6172

Rating: 5 / 5 (70 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carlyn Walter

Birthday: 1996-01-03

Address: Suite 452 40815 Denyse Extensions, Sengermouth, OR 42374

Phone: +8501809515404

Job: Manufacturing Technician

Hobby: Table tennis, Archery, Vacation, Metal detecting, Yo-yoing, Crocheting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Carlyn Walter, I am a lively, glamorous, healthy, clean, powerful, calm, combative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.