By Max Woolf, Senior Analyst
In the past 24 hours there has been a flurry of interest around the announcement that College Board will be changing the format of the SATs in 2016 to make the essay section optional, eliminate penalties for guessing wrong, and removing esoteric vocabulary words. While this announcement is likely in response to several market factors, including the increased market penetration of the ACT, the heightened focus on accountability for student outcomes, shifting student demographics and the widespread adoption of the Common Core Math and Literacy standards, this does represent a positive sign for student and parents who are spending a total of $4.5 billion dollars on test preparation and tutoring services according to IBISWorld’s January 2013 Report.
From the institutional perspective, what does this news mean for colleges and universities? For the past 20 years, Eduventures has worked with many college and university admissions offices to enhance their recruitment and retention efforts in order to improve operations and student yield. We have partnered with and surveyed many institutions to determine the best practices from a strategic and operations perspective. Our view is that despite the significant investment made by students and parents in test preparation and tutoring, this change in the structure of the SATs has little to no impact on the college admissions process. College admissions have moved away from their reliance on SAT and ACT scores and moreover acknowledge the value of well-rounded students.
- SAT scores are only one factor and not required by all admissions offices. While it may help parents by lowering the cost of test prep or developing more relevant skills, SAT scores are only one of many different factors that drive admissions decisions. There are many factors that drive admissions decision, including grades, essays, recommendations, make-up of the class, financial aid, regional location, and many more. In fact, some college admissions offices no longer require the SAT in their admissions process and some even disregard test scores in their evaluation of student applications.
- Good SAT scores do not a Good Student make. SAT scores provide a benchmark for colleges and universities to try to compare students from very diverse backgrounds. The skills required for the SAT scores, however, are not a predictor of a successful college student or a predictor of likelihood of student retention. The SAT focuses on a very specific set of math, verbal and writing skills written for which many students may excel, but does not demonstrate a student’s ability to think critically or creatively.
- Focus on SAT prep may distract students from getting good grades or extra-curriculars. In the same way that high-stakes testing in schools may lead to teachers teaching to the tests, many students may focus significant efforts studying for the SATs at the expense of other subject areas or activities. Students that are laser focused on getting into college already have a multitude of competing priorities: getting good grades, maximizing extra-curricular activities, volunteering for community services opportunities, and studying for the SATs. To the extent that students choose SAT prep over other activities, they may end up focusing on one area at the expense of a more holistic view of their college application.
It is certainly a positive step in the right direction to see the College Board is listening to the market demand to test students on a more applicable set of skills, but in the end, the overall impact on the student recruitment and college admissions process will likely be very modest.