SAT: Understanding the myth of standardized testing

By on January 30, 2015



By Robyn Scott
College entrance exams are in no way an indicator of intelligence, aptitude or a student’s potential ability to succeed in a college environment. They are simply a way for universities to decide which applications they can put in the “no” pile.

Although it may feel good to know that these tests are simply tests, it doesn’t alleviate the stress they cause students in their junior and senior years of high school.

The reality is students need to hit a particular target score to enter the college of their choice.

Conquering the SAT or ACT can be especially frustrating for potential legacy students — students who want to attend the school that their parent attended. In this case, the SAT can be a make-it or break-it situation.


According to the College Board, the national average score is about 1,500 out of 2,400. A general goal for many students would be to crack an 1,800, which is a required score for many universities.

The SAT consists of math, critical reading and writing sections; the essay is part of the writing section. In reality, the SAT is not about math or English, and ‘s not about writing or grammar. The SAT is simply about picking the right answer.

Quite frequently, students who receive straight As in their English classes can score very poorly on the two verbal sections, while students who receive straight Cs in English classes may receive a high score on the test.

Although interesting, this information is not particularly helpful unless test-takers can find out how to beat the exam. If studying English and math doesn’t really help, what should they be studying?

Students preparing for the SAT should follow nationally recognized test prep techniques.

  • Answer choice patterns
    Most of the sets of answer choices have specific patterns. If students can recognize these patterns, they can identify answers that serve as a trap and learn to recognize which answers are too general or too specific.
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  • Elimination of bad answer choices
    Students who look for the correct answer all the time often end up choosing the trap answer. Test-takers should think of their practice exams as a trial and error learning experience. The more they learn to cross out the wrong answer, the more likely they will be to choose the right answer on the day of the real exam.
  • Practice tests
    Students should not take their exam without taking a practice test first. The SAT lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes; a person of any age would have difficulty sitting for this amount of time. Sitting in an upright chair in a classroom full of proctors is rather similar to sitting on an airplane traveling half way across the country.Sitting on a tiny airplane chair is not anybody’s idea of a good time nor is taking the SAT bright and early on a Saturday. Practice exams help students acclimate to long periods of concentration and will give them an idea of what they’re up against.

    A practice test will also give students a baseline score. It is important for students to know what score they are likely to receive so that they can set reasonable expectations.

Students should be mindful of the amount of progress that they can potentially gain. Some students hope to gain 450 to 500 composite points. Although possible, this rarely happens and is not supported by statistics. So what is realistic?

A realistic score increase for students who participate in an ideal amount of self-study is about 100-150 points (composite). However, averages can be a dangerous thing. Some students will break records while others will show no improvement.


Because each student is different and has a different learning style, the best way to deal with the obstacle of standardized testing is to start early. Stress and anxiety are huge factors in determining test scores, and students who feels that their entire life is riding on one day is very likely to make mistakes.

Some students will thrive under pressure, but this is becoming less and less common with Generation Y.

Starting early allows students to take the exam multiple times if necessary.

Students who participate in summer SAT study perform better in general. Students who are already halfway through their junior year will probably have no choice but to take the SAT in June of 2015. Because this doesn’t give them as much time to work on self-study, they may consider consulting an educator.

Many students find that college prep can become as time consuming as a part-time job. The reality of achieving over an 1,800 or 1,850 dictates a substantial commitment. However, a healthy life balance is important at this developmental stage in life.

Cramming — four-plus hours of study in one day — is never recommended, and students who sacrifice sleep, exercise or reasonable social time generally don’t meet their target score.

Underneath all the facts and figures and all the recommendations, it’s important to see the big picture.

One way or another everything will be okay, and the majority of students planning to attend college get into college somewhere. It’s critical for teens to remember that one day of testing will not determine their entire lives; the SAT can be taken over and over again.

Although college entrance exams are an influential part of American society, a work-life balance is paramount. Students should enjoy their time as a teenager; they’ll be grown up soon enough.

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Robyn Scott graduated from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Southampton in England. She has worked as a college prep and ESL tutor for the past 10 years and has enjoyed working with students from the U.S., Europe, the UK, South Korea, Japan and Africa. She splits her time between Corolla and California. She has enjoyed working with students from several countries tutoring SAT and ESL for the past 10 years.

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