ACT, SAT Reveal Education Gaps

Standardized tests are complicated, unfair

Jenna Thrasher, Staff Writer

It’s no secret that the ACT and SAT are tied to one’s socioeconomic status. These standardized tests often feel more like they are testing how much you can pay for tutoring, rather than your intelligence. However, as a Blake student, I was fortunate enough that I was able to take the ACT prep course taught by Breakaway Test Prep, offered during the first semester of eleventh grade. Unfortunately, very few schools have similar opportunities. 

In fact, there is a whole industry built around test prep, where students not only learn content, but also strategies. Hannah Sweet ’21 shares, “I went into a test prep class, and the first thing the instructor said is that we want you to think as little as possible during this test. There is a certain way to take the test, and if you don’t learn those little tricks, you’re kind of screwed.” These “tricks” make the tests more of a game rather than a chance to show what you know. It also means that whoever can afford to learn these strategies will most likely do better. 

Sweet continues, “If you are wealthy, you are going to do much better on the test. The statistics back me up. You can look at this through an economic lens or a racial lens. White students predominantly score better on the test and students of higher economic brackets continue to score better as well.” This sad reality makes the ACT and SAT seem discouraging from the get-go; however, the world of standardized testing has shifted.

Like almost everything else in the world, the ACT and SAT have changed due to COVID-19. What once used to feel like the second most important thing on your college application (after your GPA) now feels much lighter, as many colleges are now test-optional. Essentially, if you don’t feel like you are a strong test taker, you don’t have to go through the grueling process of preparations. “If testing doesn’t allow you to show your strengths, don’t do it. We are starting to get a strong sense from a lot of colleges that they are going to extend their test-optional policies at least a year, if not longer,” says Associate Director of College Counseling, Jim Mahoney. However, this doesn’t mean that the ACT and SAT are now pointless. “We still advise families to explore taking the test. There are still scenarios where that might make sense for you,” Mahoney continued.

Despite this, it looks like the ACT and SAT is here to stay. “I think that while testing is always going to be an imperfect tool, I do think it’s probably not going away in the longer term because there are students and situations and colleges who believe that it shows them important things,” said Mahoney. That being said, at least students now have the ability to choose whether or not they want to take it. After all, standardized testing may be one person’s worst nightmare and another person’s moment to shine.