Why The SATs Are a Scam, Unless You Can Pay $1,000 an Hour...

October 27th 2014

Adam Rotstein

Anthony Green charges $1,000 an hour. He’s not a hit man, a heart surgeon or even a high profile escort. He’s just a tutor, an SAT tutor to be exact, and he caters to the uber-rich of Manhattan.  He’s also living proof that there is no limit to the amount wealthy families are willing to pay for a competitive SAT score.

At Princeton, the admission rate is down to 9%. If you’re lucky enough to score over a 2300 on the SAT, your chances improve to 22%. How exactly does one get so lucky?  Most students need the help of some SAT preparation, yet only affluent students can afford it.

The SAT itself has been shown to discriminate, particularly when it comes to low income, first-generation, and minority students. According to the Washington Post, “Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326.”  Furthermore, a student with a parent who has a graduate degree scores 300 points higher than a student with a parent with only a high school degree. The SAT, essentially, says more about the student’s family than it does about the individual student.

Interestingly, The SAT was actually invented to serve a purpose exactly opposite to the one it serves now. When the test was first administered in 1926 as the “Scholastic Aptitude Test”, the word “aptitude” meant that the test measured an innate ability rather than knowledge acquired through schooling.

Fast forward to 2014.  The Collegeboard no longer claims that the SAT measures any innate abilities, but rather “developed reasoning.” Critics suggest it merely measures the lottery of your birth. At this point, people aren’t really sure what the SAT measures anymore, except for how well you can take the SAT. And there is an alarmingly lucrative market devoted to teaching students just how to do that, if they can afford it.

And for all this fuss, you’d think the SAT was at least effective at helping our colleges select the right candidates. According to ABC news, “Only 10 percent to 20 percent of the variation in first-year GPA is explained by SAT scores.” Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, wrote in Time, “The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of success in college.” So, the SAT discriminates against certain students and it is not even a good indicator of future academic success. Why on earth do we use it at all?

Many prefer to think of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning as great American equalizers. If a naturally brilliant low-income student can score well on the SAT, he or she could in theory gain admission to a competitive school with financial aid and from there, land a high paying job of his or her choice. But the reality is more of a cycle—one in which the rich propagate the rich.

And although many top universities have enacted diversity initiatives and practices of affirmative action, little has changed. According to a series of federal surveys of selective colleges, there was virtually no difference from the 1990’s to 2012 in enrollment of students who are less well off. For starters, until we change the flawed system that relies on standardized testing for college admission, the Ivy League will not be the vehicle for social mobility we want and need it to be.