Is the SAT a Fair Test?

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The SAT is an infamous test in the halls of high schools: upon reaching the 11th grade it is a rite of passage to register and ask your friends: “How did you do on the practice test?” It is the test of fear: answer 44 math questions in two 25 minute intervals and 10 in another 20 minute interval. The test does not seek to find your level of intelligence; rather, the SAT quizzes you on your ability to test.

So how fair is it to test teenagers on how well they can sit down for four hours and think? Some children who believe they are not so good at this study every day like madmen in order to reach that 2000 point mark- but like the child Icarus, they fly too high to the sun and their wings melt.

And thus, it is soon realized by each and every SAT test-taker: those who handle pressure the best are able to do the best. Some people are able to thrive under stressful or competitive circumstances, but some crumble. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman of the New York Times argue that this dilemma is due to what genes you inherit and what sort of enzyme in your brain makes you tick. The main gene, the COMT gene, codes for two different sorts of enzymes that clear away dopamine from the prefrontal cortex. “That part of the brain is where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts.” [i] One type of enzyme tends to work faster, the other works slower.

Those with an enzyme that clears dopamine slower tend to have the advantage- they tend to think clearer and make better decisions. Those with the faster enzyme are more of the “crash and burn” type. However, in a stressful setting, the roles are completely reversed. This is due to the flood of dopamine that stress so unkindly donates to the prefrontal cortex. The surge in dopamine is what the people with fast-acting enzymes require: a stressful environment puts them in their element.

Your grade on the SAT is based on the genes your parents gave you, not your own cognitive ability. Due to the stress during the SAT, some people cannot function as they would in a classroom. Teenagers with straight A’s can score a 1600 on the SAT. The pressure on these kids increases; as colleges become harder to get into, the SAT is seen as the last hope. Students don’t concentrate on their studies in order to focus on the SAT. “Sure, you did your homework and wrote a great history report- but this test is going to find out how smart you really are.”[ii]

So how fair is the SAT? Not fair at all.


[i] Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?” The New York Times.10 Feb. 2013. Website.

[ii] Ibid.

Image from: http://www.straighterline.com

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25 responses to “Is the SAT a Fair Test?

  1. The SATs do not only judge if your a good test taker. They also access how much you were able to learn from school, how much you were able to fully understand and connect to the real world. Many of the questions on the SATs are fairly easy to answer with or without stress. Another thing is, the stress goes away as you get through the test. So its unfair to say how well you do on the SATs is based on how you can handle stress, for many of the questions require some degree of intelligence combined with skills that should have been taught to you in the classroom. Many students simply do not pay attention much in class, and rather do their homework and cram for tests.

  2. This is completely true. I have friends that are so bright, but when it comes down to take a test, they’ll blank out. Now I know that its their genes that cause my friends to be like and this is what causes others to be great test takers. Some schools are aware of this. I’ve had teachers give tests verbally to students who’ve told them about their problem with tests. Using this method rather than sit behind a desk for 4 hours, gets them good grades. The SAT does not test how intelligent you are, but what genes you have inherited from your parents. The pressure and stress level is crazy while people are prepping for the SAT, but bottom line is that you have to do well to get into a good college whether this test is fair or not.

    • I agree completely, I think that it is unfair to judge children on how well they take tests, and to then determine from that single test wether they should be given an opportunity for higher education. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I think that if a test is going to determine someone’s future, the playing field should be level, rather than good test takers being given the advantage over someone who might be equally as smart.

      • I completely agree.
        A test should not be the only thing measuring whether you are smart enough or bright enough to succeed later on. Like the article stated, different people react to tests differently. Some get really nervous and shut down, some like the limit they are given and work at a steady pass, or some (like me) get so into the competitive atmosphere, that they rush through the test, making silly mistakes along the way that could potentially hold you back from doing your fullest. [But overall get a good grade…] Instead of taking SAT’s, there should be project like assessments (like PBA’s) that can really determine what you are capable of doing.

      • While the SAT can be unfair in some aspects such as not looking at other scholastic qualities of students, I do disagree with this statement that this test is wrong to predict a child’s future. I believe that every person can be a good test taker despite the enzyme allowing people to handle pressure. The SAT gives each and every student an opportunity to take in everything they have learned and prove that they have retained this information over the years. As my freshamn biology teacher stated to the class during hischool, “We (teachers) are prepping, preparing, and working you hard because not only do we want you to succeed in life, but there physically is a point when your brain will not take in as much as you will from birth to 25 years of age. I have taken this lesson and comment from my teacher to see that although the SAT takes away from a lot of time, not only stressing out many high school students, but it is giving everyone the ability to remember everything they have learned and prove that not only have they built up their intelligence, but also that they are ready to take on stressful challenges that life in the work force within the real world pose outside of highschool.
        ~Brooke, 9th grade

  3. I think that the SAT is not a bad school concept, because it is an opportunity to put students on the same level to thus see how generations approach problem solving. That being said there is too much of stress on SATs in the American school system. I don’t think a single test should determine if you are entitled to a high education.The SATs only test a certain type of person when there are many different ways to be smart. I also do not think it is a fair assessment of work ethic because retaining information is different for everyone.

  4. SAT scores should not be a dominant focus for colleges to determine which students are fit to be enrolled in their school. That is simply because of two reasons; some students don’t obtain certain test-taking skills as others and a single test cannot easily define a student’s academic intelligence and level of achievement in their school. Being that one’s genes result in their performance during stressful and competitive times, such as taking the SAT, that is something that people cannot fight or have control over. Therefore, schools should consider a student’s test scores no more than they look at other facets of their academic performance.

  5. I agree with this article a single test shouldn’t determine what kind of student you are and what kind of education that you deserve in the future. Everybody has there strengths and weaknesses and the people who are better test takers have an unfair advantage over the people who are not so great test takers. I think that there should be many aspects to determine what future you will have education wise instead of just one long stressful 4 hour test.

  6. I completely disagree with this article for most reasons. First of all, the writer of this article states that this is not the way that kids should apply and send to colleges. However, there is no other way for colleges to see every sing high schoolers intelligence in the country. Just by seeing your grades is not representative of how good of a student you are. I am not saying this method is but, however, there are high schools that are extremely hard to get an A in and some where you have to do no work at all. This test separates those kids, and shows who really has the knowledge to succeed. Of course some kids do not strive under pressure, but this seems to be the only method that can test every kids knowledge to a certain extent. And it is completely ridiculous and ignorant to say that someones genes decide there SAT score. Just because you are born to be better under pressure, does not mean you are more or less smarter then anyone else. I think if two people are the same amount of intelligence, and one person is a better test-taker then it can help. But, also test-taking skills is not just something your born with. You have to practice and improve, so it is not fair to just say “I was born a bad test-taker and there is nothing i can do about it”. So even though i do have partial agreements that this test does benefit certain people, there is no other option, and this option does test your knowledge

  7. The whole concept of the SAT is outrageous. Students have so many qualities that make them smart and unique. A student has so many strengths that make them smart that the SAT does not reflect. Test taking is just a small fraction of determining how “smart” a student is. A person is so much more then just a single grade. It is such an unfair system and as a result both students and colleges miss out. The colleges miss out on having smart, thriving students at their school, and the students miss out on a college that would make a major difference in their lives, all because a student is’t good at a tiny fraction of determining how “smart” they are. I think that one day the SAT will be abolished and years later grandparents will be telling the story to their horrified grand kids listening on in disbelief of how such a system existed.

  8. I find this article quite interesting because I have met students that do not study at all for quizzes or test and they get a 98%. On the other hand I see other students that study so much and the day of the test they blank out. This article can be viewed as true or a lie. In my case, I feel that what this article is saying is not true. I think that the SAT does test the “smartness” you have but the reason that you are smart is not because you inherited a gene but because you worked hard to make sure you do good in the SAT. In addition I don’t think there should be a SAT or any big test to test your capability but simply your great grade that the student earned throughout the school year.

  9. theres no real answer people take test differently they take in knoweldge differently. You cant really say anything about the SAT because its testing you on your knoweldge how does the state know if you know your work to pass? Also with a PBA your teacher knows you and from their own judgment of you they might grade you the wrong way because of your past. And then the SAT no ones about your past so when they grade it it wouldnt be based off of someones mood like a PBA. All you have to do is focus on the test and stop thinking about other things. If people werent so nervous they wouldnt blank out

  10. I think the SATs are a very unfair way of judging a students knowledge. That maybe be unfair coming from a student who is a horrible test taker but i believe that a student has so much more to offer then filling in a couple multiple choice questions. whats the point in developing social skills and artistic talent and any talent you think you have if its not going to be used. teachers always say how a well rounded student is the one thats going far in life, actually everyone says, but if people want a well rounded person in there school, then why is there acceptance based on there test score. this topic has never made much sense to me.also i believe that being a good test taker is not due to genes its due to drive and ability to retain lots of knowledge. my problem is that i can’t sit still and look at a textbook for hours and id have to do it for hours or else i won’t remember it because of my horrible memory. thats why i love projects because i have time to think about it.

  11. I agree with this article and I do not believe that the SAT is a fair test. I believe this because everyone tests at a different level of stress, and if it is indeed true that dopamine receptors and stress play a role in test taking ability, then the SAT is not a true reflection of how intelligent someone is, but rather how good of a test taker they are. May of the world’s ‘geniuses’ did not go to college, dropped out or simply never got there. See the link below for some examples. http://itsnobody.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/the-top-10-most-overrated-geniuses/

  12. The SAT is such a complex test that it cannot be simply categorized as “unfair” or as “fair”. Disagreeing with all of the previous comments above, I believe the SAT’s are in an aspect a fair test. Moreover, this is a biased article, and in order to get a reasonable answer to the over arching question of whether the SAT’s are “fair”, other factors must be considered. For example, the overall purpose of the SAT’s is to measure a student’s ability in comparison to other kids across the country. Throughout the U.S. for example, there are many different education systems which range from, public, to private, to catholic, to independent, to charter schools. All of these schools prepare students differently. Even though a student might have straight A’s, and may typically earn nineties and above on assignments, different states, cities, and towns have different standards. What may be considered an A+ in a public school in an Arizona may be a B- in a New York City charter school. Since schools are essentially on different levels, I believe the SAT’s are a fair way to compare how much knowledge a student ultimately has on a national level. Comparing student’s ability is essentially important so students can be among peers of their own level. Lastly, it is not like the SAT’s are the only thing colleges and universities consider when admitting a student. In addition to the SAT’s, so many aspects such as application essays, numerous interviews, high school grades, and other factors as well are looked at by colleges. Therefore, the SAT is just a reasonable form of assessment that colleges consider in order to measure and predict a student’s possible level of performance in their school.

    • It has NOTHING to do with your stress. A rest is based on how much knowledge you have on the subject in question, not how well you handle it.

  13. I agree in part with this article. It is very important to do good on the SAT’s to get into a good college. The problem with the SAT is that to do good on it, you don’t necessarily have to be very smart or intelligent. The thing about the SAT that is wrong in a way is that it’s content barely changes each year, and all you need to do to do good on the test is study it’s contents. I say this on behalf of personal experience. A few of my friends from Trinity, which is considered the best private school in New York. A lot of these kids have had SAT tutors since they were in ninth grade. They all got around perfect scores on their SAT’s. But these kids are not that smart. I’ve talked to much more intelligent kids that got lower scores on the SAT but they could not afford a tutor. It just goes to show that this test does not represent how intelligent a person is but merely how good his/her study skills are.

  14. The brain is a complex organ. This is the organ we know least about, so really the article is based on speculation. Although, stress is a huge factor in most tests. The whole testing system in America is messed up. Between the FCATS in Florida, tests that last two weeks in Colorado, and the SAT’s; testers need to study how to accurately test a student on information they received. I was IQ tested in kindergarten, which is ridiculous. According to that test, I’m incredibly intelligent, yet if you quiz me about what I learned in algebra in 7th grade, I won’t remember. The information we learn in school will be useless one day or another. I wont care about the Pythagorean thermo when 30 and may have a non-mathematical career.

  15. This has been an issue i have felt very strong about for a while, once i started to look at high schools in 6th grade. Why is it, that our path in life, must be constantly chosen by a few numbers. It all starts with the infamous “State Tests”, which are really only ways for the government to see whether or not your school is doing its job, and whether or not your school gets more money. At my old elementary/middle school, I remember up until 7th grade, we hardly focused on the State Testing. But then, when my school started to change principals, and we were loosing money and in danger of being closed down, test taking was ALL WE DID. Before that, my school had a rich education, where I learned so much in every subject. Now, yeah my school has money for iPads and fancy computers, but what is the education anymore? I was afraid that going to Beacon would be ridiculously hard, and to be honest at first it was. For my 8th grade year, every single day from October to the Science State test, we did test prep (well, not me because my mother didn’t believe I needed such) and I was not prepared at all for any of the work that I was assigned.. Anyways, what I’m trying to get at, is I feel that all these timed standardized tests should just be gotten rid of… My best friend since birth has always been way smarter than I have (she was valedictorian and I was salutatorian), grades and all, but when it came to one state test, it ruined her High school opportunity. We both applied for Bard, but for the first time ever she got a 3 on her English portion of her state exam (and for once I had finally gotten two 4’s in 7th grade), and I ended up getting an interview and she did not, EVEN THOUGH she did better on the entrance exam. So, again, I believe that testing is in your genes, and how well you can handle stress. You can be as bright as a light bulb but when a test comes around it blows out. All of these tests only test how well you can answer a question, but never assess you on how well you can answer them. In life, being able to ask a question will always be more valuable than answering a question in a certain amount of minutes.

  16. I some what agree with this article. The simple and logical way to go is to make laws that work for both political members and citizens. As a New Yorker in Manhattan, I can hands on see how the limited space allows many people to flock to public transportation, using less cars, and therefore having less of a carbon foot print on the world. As the environment is deteriorating from each human action, I think that not only does each societal member need to see that they need to take action, but also that recycling and taking the subway is not the only way to be green. In this article I feel that Manhattan was looked at as the most needy city, but in general I feel that even rural areas like a random town in the middle of Utah are needy. Living in cities rather than towns seems to make the most sense to reduce the amount of cars used, along with pollution. So, rural areas should follow Manhattan’s structure to not only reduce the amount of pollutants released when driving everywhere, but also to limit people to only buy and consume what they can fit in their house. The vendors and large brand name companies are also to blame besides the people because they are continuously selling products that hurt the environment to make, and also to be used. Both citizens and companies are at fault here. But, the main point I am trying to get across is that it will take more than just making laws to have a change. As seen on the Upper East Side with all the riots along Asphalt Green about a waste area proves how the government and politics are not always easy to compromise with when forming laws. To prevent such pollution from happening and taking a while to take place like Asphalt Green’s possible new near by waste center, as a society, the people need to start making decisions on rural space and convert to cities in order to reduce pollution, and reduce over population with many more people in our future!

  17. I hate to say, but I disagree with this article. As a student myself, I believe that the SAT is time consuming, difficult, and a waste of time. But, in general, I have always known that it is possible for everyone to be good test takers. If each student studies constantly and takes the initiative to practice as much as they can, any student can test well. I feel that the whole point of the SAT is not only to show off colleges how smart you are, but to show how much you as an individual can retain the information taken in over the last 16-17 years of school. As students, it is our duty to work as hard as we can; with the SAT students will get the ability to show that they have mastered all given skills over the past few years, thet are ready to move on, and they understand what they have learned. I think one extremely important thing that my freshman biology teacher said was “We (teachers) are prepping you, working you, and preparing you not only to be ready for college and to be successful in life, but also, as you age, you are constantly losing your ability to remember and understand information up until you are 25.” With this quote in mind, I am able to see that yes the SAT may look like a stupid test, but with all the prep work that needs to go into it, it will show each student the responsibilities that come with stress to work under a limited schedule; this can help high school students become exposed to expectations of a work force in the real world on a daily basis. I do feel that some people can’t handle pressure, but despite the genetic enzyme that is responsible for this, the SAT can be achieved by anyone who takes the time to comprehend 12 years of work!

  18. Taking a test in a pressured environment makes perfect sense because in real life, most of the time you’ll be in some kind of a pressured situation, because that’s just how the world works. Sure, it’s difficult because the your entire college career relies on it. But that’s not what this article is arguing.

  19. Everyone seems to be focusing on the fact that the SAT is a hard test to take because of the amount of time it takes. For me the real problem with the SAT is not the test but rather the whole concept of high stakes testing. The whole idea that each individual’s whole college career and possibly future relies on one day of testing is absolutely absurd. I understand that everyone needs to be tested on a level playing field to measure how everyone performs in relation to each other comparatively but this should not be done in one day and should be measured in more ways than just one single test.

  20. The high school success of students is often determined by how well they score on the SATs. Personally, I agree with this article and think this concept is repulsive. Bountiful colleges look for straight As however, a student that has pushed themselves beyond their limit for four years, might lose their chance of getting into their dream college because of one exam that mistakenly determines their true “smarts”. Students are more complex than that and one exam should not count so much towards their future, the true ability and intelligence of students should be acquired through a series of different ways.

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