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Cause or Correlation—What’s Really Unfair About the SAT

July 9, 2022

In these “post” covid-crazy times, there’s so much conversation about whether a factor is caused by or is just coincidentally related to that all-consuming topic. You might think it strange, but it really got me thinking in terms of the SAT and ACT standardized tests. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard people say the SAT is unfair. And often standardized testing for college is blamed for many things. So, I thought I would venture down that rabbit hole a bit to try to extract what we need to move forward.

When push comes to shove, the system of standardized testing is alive and kicking. You can’t avoid it. It’s a tool to determine where you study and what. Yes, there are places where the branded tests are not unconditionally accepted. USC (CA) and all its branches is one such example where the current tests that are used nationwide are still used for out-of-staters but not necessarily for CA residents. The new CA system is still being developed, but perhaps it’s no surprise that standardized tests are being considered (ironically, to replace the current standardized test instruments which will be similar to the SAT) With over 200K applicants each year, and at $60 a test, that’s 12 million dollars if the students only took the test once—follow the money!

I think we need to get back to the basics for a few sentences. The idea of standardized testing is to offer a platform that EVERYBODY can partake in where the same test is offered to students, and they can compete for college placements on a level playing field. MIT recently announced they are returning to the SAT. Stu Schmill, wrote, “tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education.” I.e., dropping the SAT, it turns out, actually hurts low-income students, rather than helping them.

Most people are not actually upset at the SAT per se but rather what it reveals—an inequality in students, both academically and intellectually. Yes, regardless of the school attended, some people are more naturally, logically minded than others and they tend to score higher because of the critical thinking nature format of the test. The good news is that logic is not a personality trait so anyone can train their brains to be a better critical thinker.

We need to stop relating income disparities on the SAT as evidence of an unfair test. These reveal evidence of an unfair society. “The test measures differences in academic preparedness, including the ability to write a clear sentence, to understand a complex passage, and to solve a mathematical problem in a quick, logical way. The SAT doesn’t create inequalities in these academic skills. It reveals them. Throwing the measurement away doesn’t remedy underlying injustices in children’s academic opportunities, any more than throwing a thermometer away changes the weather”. 

Not everyone believes it is level, however. And if we’re honest, there will always be holes in any system, regardless of its application. When you’re creating a melting pot of hundreds of thousands of unique individuals, each with a unique mix of interests, history, talents and abilities, something is going to fall through the cracks. You have your own unique socio-economic, and even emotional history, and things like your health, your mental acuity and literally hundreds of other factors make your approach to everything you do—including SAT tests and the like—unique. 

I cannot get away from the fact that despite our innate differences of ‘nature and nurture’, the playing field is the line-in-the-sand that does serve us very well. And it’s not just your placement in tertiary institutions. Even employers use that data. The tests are a way of looking at prerequisite skills. And like it or not, it has been proven, that how well you do in the tests relates to how well you’ll do at college. Colleges have a vested interest in you doing well, as do employers.

I feel grateful that I have had the opportunity to address and teach tens of thousands of unique souls over the last 17+ years. Of course, I constantly hear people’s opinions and interpretations. If I had a dollar for every time someone said the SAT/ACTs discriminate against minorities and low-income families… well, you know how that ends. I also hear people think “only rich kids get high scores.”

My vast experience says otherwise. 

What I do see playing out time and again, is the opportunity that is given for fairness to play out, especially if a student is not in a good school.

Like it or not, we are ‘stuck’ with this system at the moment, albeit in a state of flux, but it’s still here. The gift is seeing how you can extract MORE opportunity from it if you can. That’s going to take a little work.

We started out with the theme of cause and correlation. I have a question for you: Is the cause of the problem (of poor academic performance) caused by the standardized testing system, or is it simply a factor that has highlighted that a problem exists? I strongly believe it has shown there are inequities in our communities and myriad other factors, that result in questioning the outcome of tertiary placement. Blaming the SATs for unequal opportunities in different school systems isn’t fair as they seek to level the playing field for all students. These tests actually help low-income students in an inequitable society.

With such a wide-ranging cohort across the entire country, the testing system is not the problem. It does show us that differences among groups and students and schools etc., do exist. Our job is to notice those things, and work as a community to equalize opportunity. Those differences are not the reason to cancel the tests. They are reasons to have important dialog and institute meaningful change to try to equalize opportunity across our diverse nation. 

Variety is the spice of life. Our differences make for interesting conversations, experiences and lives. We don’t need a country of same-sameness; of academic automatons who all know the same thing and do the same when tested. What we do need to do is apply funding to areas of the community where education equity is lacking. The system has to be addressed. Throwing money at low-performing students is not the same as improving the circumstances of poorer communities that have resulted from poor academic performance. There is a difference.

It is interesting to note that analysis of the cohorts of test-optional institutions has shown there is no significant improvement in racial diversity. What tends to happen is applications that appear more erudite and polished are, naturally, more attractive. This goes right back to the issue of equalizing the opportunities by using resources to improve poorer communities.

Have you ever been aware of the notion that Asian Americans are on the top of the academic performance tree? Followed by white students, then Hispanic and then Black? How much do you believe that hierarchy? 

Obviously, this pecking order does not apply in all cases. Let’s flesh this out for a second. There is an inbuilt cultural story that we apply to our lives, in our formative years. We cannot help but be influenced by our caregivers and environment when we’re young. Think nature versus nurture; the way you’re brought up, the role models, your beliefs, your influences good or bad, and the way they inform the decisions you make. And those things may also play out in your academic results.


Do those differences amongst us highlight a problem with the testing system? I don’t think so. It confirms that people are indeed undeniably different. Regardless of what system is used to determine higher education placement, there has been, at least until now, a kind of cultural educational hierarchy. These invisible and often unconscious elements of your life can have a big impact on how you operate. I ask you to step back and objectively examine how you’ve let those things affect your own abilities. Ask yourself, do you buy into those generalities, or will you break free and become whomever you want to become?

There is no need or good outcome to make this a politically divisive issue. People are … different in myriad ways regardless of how red or blue they are.

It is your potential that counts.

Some people are smarter than others. Some are academically more logical. Others are artistically or athletically or emotionally cleverer. All factors that affect performance.

And when it comes to university placement or getting a job, people with the best fit will be chosen.

So, how you can profit from the system?

  1. Let go of the politicization of standardized tests. Embrace your uniqueness. Recognize your relationship with your individual, your family’s and community’s culture and your associated beliefs. 

  2. It’s not just rich kids who get high scores. Your abilities and motivations are crucial to how well you do. How much income your family has does not determine how well you do. It can affect the opportunities you are presented with, but it is not the most important thing. Yes, income does have an effect on how well you can do. But there are plenty of motivated low-income students who have the motivation, drive and desire to create more in their lives, who ace the tests. Just as a student from a monied family may have no drive or desires to speak of, and consequently bombs out at the tests. 

Paying an exorbitant amount of money for a test prep company isn’t the answer as many of them lead you down the wrong path—more math concepts or memorizing a ridiculous amount of vocabulary words, i.e., reteaching high school all over again. Standardized test require a different skillset not taught at most schools.To be clear, a very large number of low-income students outperform their wealthier cohort. Don’t let your beliefs limit you.

  1. Beat the tests. Spoiler alert: If this is the first time you’ve read anything from me, then perhaps I have to tell you that I make a living helping people like you beat the tests. That means that I teach you how to approach the SAT and other standardized tests as a system. When you understand the systems, and you practice the strategies, apply the hint, tips and secrets, then doing better and getting better results is 99.9% guaranteed. Who wouldn’t benefit from improving their critical thinking skills? (Answer: nobody.)

Fun fact 1:

College Prep Genius is not only one of the most successful college prep programs in the country, but it also requires one of the smallest $ investments. In fact, you’ll pay less for our services than just about any other program! And because we get results, we are the most cost-effective solution money can buy. Below, you’ll find a couple of examples to show what others have gained from attending our program and putting in a little work.

Fun fact 2:

Other college prep programs cost thousands of dollars. CPG is a small fraction of that with different options for online, (eCourse) virtual boot camps and face-to-face learning, with extended access to resources and support from as little as $139 ranging to $395. It’s highly affordable. Check out the case studies below where the Return on Investment speaks for itself!

Case Study 1:

Nathan K, from Shanghai, China

Nathan wanted to get into a top-rated school, but he had a high GPA and low SAT score. 

Nathan joined our live program (face-to-face over a weekend). Over the next five months Nathan set aside some time in his schedule. He did the follow-up homework and watched the 12 hours’ video instruction. For best results, CPG recommends watching them several times. Repetition is a key to cementing learning.

Then Nathan took 15 full-length practice-tests. And, most importantly, to fill in the gaps in his performance, he dedicated about 30 hours to reviewing all the questions he missed or answered wrongly. 

I’ve added up the hours below. It might seem a lot, but over the course of 5 months, it works out to about 8 hours per week.

Nathan's Activities


Live class attendance


Video instruction. Nathan watched 3 times


Homework, quizzes


15 full-length practice tests


Review of missed question




The results and his ROI were amazing.

 Nathan raised his SAT score by 600 points and earned 59 (index)   PSAT points. He received a full ride to Baylor University, worth $200,000.

That’s an incredible return on investment of more than $1,000 per hour.

Ordinary results at CPG are still extraordinary

Not all examples are as superlative as this one, so let’s look at one that’s considered more middle-of-the-road. After all, if you’re not inclined to believe you could ever compete, let alone win a $200,000 scholarship, then perhaps you can see yourself in a more ‘believable’ position, such as the one Tyler was in.

Case Study 2:

Tyler L of Fort Worth, TX

Tyler was stuck. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how many tests he took, and regardless of the test-prep he did with the classes his school offered, he simply could not score more than 1200 on the SAT. Until fate intervened. One day he dropped by his counselor's office. Mr. D. recommended he read the College Prep Genius book that was recently given to him by Jean Burk.

Desperate at this point, Tyler delved in. And to his surprise, everything started to click for him. The strategies he learned allowed him to really see the test was logic-based and that he had been approaching it the wrong way. With his new understanding, Tyler found he was solidly motivated to study the correct way. 

His efforts were rewarded, and Tyler’s next test score increased 200 points! Needless to say, he is a believer.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s really never to soon to start your journey. The question is not “will you increase your scores?” but, “by how much will you increase your scores and how much will your own Return on Investment be?” 

Join the thousands of winners at College Prep Genius!

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