On December 12, online scores for students who took the PSAT last October will be available on the CollegeBoard website. For the vast majority of students, these scores will have no impact on their high school careers. However, the top 1% of test takers, otherwise known as National Merit Semifinalists, will move forward and compete for full rides to various universities across the United States.
If you find it absurd how so much weight is placed on a single 3 hour test, you’re not wrong. The PSAT is a precursor to the SAT, or the pinnacle of standardized testing for college-bound students in the United States. Although many admissions officers claim to evaluate applications holistically, according to the nation’s best college counselors, if your SAT and ACT scores are not at least within 25-75% of the school’s range, your application will automatically be tossed in the trash with very few exceptions.
This reality presents several problems, the first being that standardized tests simply don’t test intelligence as a whole nor predict college success. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences describes intelligence as a spectrum that includes nine intellectual skills: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential. College entrance exams predominately measure the first two skill sets, excluding students who are talented in other areas.
Another problem about college entrance exams is that they overwhelmingly favor wealthy students. I attend a school with a high percentage of students on free/reduced lunch who don’t have time to study since they work after school to support their families. On the other hand, there’s a school across town with affluent students whose parents all hold graduate degrees and spend thousands of dollars every summer preparing for the SAT. In the wealthiest pockets of Manhattan, tutors charge up to $1000/hour for one-on-one tutoring sessions!
The inequity of the college admissions process nearly guarantees that the upper-class have the upper-hand.
Going back to the PSAT, it is almost ironic how full scholarships are awarded to the top scorers, since many of them can afford to both prepare and pay for college. This creates an endless cycle where the rich have a path paved out for them, while the poor must shatter a glass ceiling if they want even a small shot at success.
The majority of people agree that it’s harder to get into college today than ever before. Scoring a 1600 on the SAT, once perceived as a golden ticket to an Ivy League college, is now a mere prerequisite to even be considered for a coveted spot at the nation’s top schools. In addition to the increasing uncertainty surrounding college entrance, kids today in the U.S. are more likely to earn less than their parents, indicating that even a college degree does not guarantee financial stability. It’s no wonder that college entrance exams cause a huge amount of stress in students and their families. It’s time to change the admissions game.