College Rankings and Scholarships
You’ve possibly heard the recent buzz about abolishing college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT. You may have seen colleges make a temporary pivot and suspend testing during the pandemic. Something was needed to make up for the system upheaval caused by the lockdown. So, yes, there have been changes, but is this the beginning of the end to the standardized test requirement?
Don’t count on it.
Six excellent reasons to stick with the tests
Here are six logical, bulletproof reasons the SAT and standardized testing is here to stay.
- 1A college’s national ranking is based on SAT, ACT, and the standardized test scores of their students. It’s how they play the whole national ranking system. That’s not changing anytime soon. What you’ve got is a positive feedback loop. You are attracted by a high college rank. Your score makes the college more attractive, the school is able to draw more funding, and therefore it can award more scholarship money. Win-win-win!
- 2The higher you score, the more scholarship money, and the more amazing the perks you’ll get. It’s all part of the way they want to attract the best and brightest.
- 3Standardized tests solve the problem of teacher bias. Simply this: A GPA 4.0 at one school is not the same at another. Hooray for level playing fields!
- 4Already 15% of schools are test-optional or test-flexible—schools are not actually test-blind. These institutions are generally specialized schools. What does it mean to be test-blind? Well, if you need scholarships, they will ask you to send your scores in.* These colleges tend to have their own standardized entrance test and yet still process SAT and ACT score results for entrance and scholarship eligibility.*
- 5The other 85% of colleges? Well, they admit and give money on test scores alone.
- 6While ten UC schools are breaking away from the existing SAT/ACT system, their plan is to introduce their own test. That’s right—a test! It’s very likely any test they design will be of a standardized nature. And for now, you can only use their new entry system if you’re a California resident. College entry and scholarship awarding is still largely reliant on the old faithful system. I recommend you go back to point 4 to revisit points marked with *.
Strangely, the myth seems to be ever-perpetuating that the SAT and ACT are becoming less important. This is definitely not true and doesn’t appear to be a possibility for a good many years to come.
The myth of the disappearing reliance on tests like the SAT and ACT is far from the truth. These days there is a ton of competition for placement and contest money because of our massive and growing reliance on digital technology. You can literally apply online to thousands of institutions across the country. As a result, the number of college applicants has grown. The standardized tests continue to allow a solid way of assessing the ability and suitability of students for the college.
The connection between college rank and tests
Colleges love to have a large pool of applicants. Their national rankings are linked to the caliber of their own students and their test scores, so it’s as important for the student to place well as it is for the college to attract great students and funding. The premiere site for rankings is US News and World Report.
You would think that test-optional colleges would make admissions easier (or perhaps less competitive), but this is not the case. As long as rankings remain the all-important survival factor that determines funding, the schools are beholden to the standardized testing system in some way.
Why test-optional favors the test-taker
When a school makes the test optional, generally that encourages—and even favors—submissions from people with high scores. This serves to raise the college’s rankings. And when it comes to vying for scholarship money, if you’re the one submitting a score, you could be more attractive than an opponent who doesn’t—even if they are a straight-A student.
It’s a harsh business reality, but bottom line, universities need funding and the model most in use is one that trades in standardized testing scores.
Making tests optional can’t rule out the impact your well-rounded application can have. Submit with an excellent score, and try as they might, whoever is processing the paperwork will not be able to unsee the score, nor will they be able to nullify the impression it gave. OK, you may think that’s a long bow to draw but it is a recognized quirk of human behavior.
Learning test-taking skills pays off for life
There is definitely a huge attraction to learning the hacks, the secrets, and the skills to beat the tests. I have to admit this is the angle I use to encourage more uptake in the highly successful programs I have meticulously put together over the years. Human nature is a marvelous thing. There has to be a dangling carrot, a benefit, a real “what’s-in-it-for-me” angle for you to even consider doing just about anything. This is crucial to your motivation just for preparing for the tests. Underneath it all, my highest value is to seed, nurture, and develop the greatly valued critical thinking skills that form the bases of these tests. These skills are not unique to the SAT and ACT. I have helped tens of thousands develop the techniques and abilities—and none of this is wasted as you will use them again and again over the course of your life. They will keep your mind sharp and open more doors than just about any other things you learn.
Not just for the SAT and ACT
In your life, you will not only need to learn how to beat college entrance exams, but those skills are portable! You may just need them for post-grad school and even job placement.Here are examples of many other standardized tests on which our (CPG’s) general test-taking strategies have been used—besides the SAT:
It never hurts to remind you that regardless of the status of test-result-use by colleges and universities, and despite the fact there are test-optional schools, almost every single institution requires the test as some part of the admissions process. The score can be used, but did you know that colleges often buy names from the College Board so they can make offers to successful test-takers. It’s not just your class rank and GPA that will get schools to sit up and pay attention.
Here is a little table that demonstrates numbers of SAT-based scholarships and the score cutoffs that trigger scholarship money:
Here’s a cogent example. With a 1200 SAT or 25 ACT score, you could win $1,500 from Mississippi University. Not too shabby. But raise your SAT to 1450 or your ACT to 32 and your merit-money skyrockets to almost $24,000 annually.
Whatever the future, take test-advantage now!
Studying techniques to improve your SAT scores really matters, as does researching the other side of the equation—the merit- and academic-based scholarships. There are literally thousands upon thousands of contests to enter. How many you enter is purely up to you, your diligence and persistence. You could make the act of applying, and putting your best scores and attributes forward, a part-time job.
It’s enchanting to beat the tests! Make the attraction count!
Your approach matters: While wanting to beat the test is a great short-term motivator to get you studying hard, the long-term benefits cannot be underestimated. Knowing you can reap the rewards for decades to come is as appealing as the short-term satisfaction of cracking the code to stand victorious, but what will stick with you are the benefits the robust problem-solving capabilities will bring to your life.
There is no substitute for practice (and the specific types I teach in my programs). You can be a clever straight-A student but still bomb these standardized tests. So, really, the apples with apples standardized testing approach is the great leveler. As I always recommend: Start early, test often, benefit for a lifetime.
Repetition is important when learning any skill. This also goes for practice of standardized testing techniques, and something arguably more impactful: You can take the tests multiple times and cherry-pick the best scores from different sections from different test-sittings. Leave it to later, and you may deny yourself the privilege and advantage of Score Choice and Super Score loopholes. Repetition can truly pay enormous dividends—literally and figuratively.
I always recommend starting early in your high school years, even middle school. Don’t just wait until the senior year to start testing. The earlier, the better. The first test result forms your line in the sand. It helps you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie and how you can improve. You retest. You reassess. You practice some more. You build your skills. You make scholarship money more available. You become more attractive to more schools. High scores attract better schools, higher scholarship dollars, and admissions into honors courses and other sweeteners… and so it goes.
With a system in flux and uncertainty, still one thing is for certain: Stick with SAT and ACT testing. You’ll have a clear advantage.
Remember: Start Early! Test Often. Benefit for a lifetime.