2018-05-21 09:57



  This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of U.S. high-school students will sit down to take the SAT, anxious about their performance and how it will affect their college prospects. And in a few weeks, their older peers, who took the test last year, will start hearing back from the colleges they applied to. Admitted, rejected, waitlisted? It often hinges, in no small measure, on those few hours spent taking the SAT or the ACT, the other widely used standardized test.


  Standardized tests are only part of the mix, of course, as schools make their admissions decisions. They also rely on grades, letters of recommendation, personal statements and interviews. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves: The SAT and ACT matter. They help overwhelmed admissions officers divide enormous numbers of applicants into pools for further assessment. High scores don’t guarantee admission anywhere, and low scores don’t rule it out, but schools take the tests seriously.


  Unfortunately, a lot of myths have developed around these tests—myths that stand in the way of a thoughtful discussion of their role and importance.


  Myth: Tests Are Not Related to Success in the Real World


  Clearly there are many factors, beyond what is measured by tests, that have an impact on long-term success in work and life. But fundamental skills in reading and math matter, and it has been demonstrated, across tens of thousands of studies, that they are related, ultimately, to job performance.


  Longitudinal research has demonstrated that major life accomplishments, such as publishing a novel or patenting technology, are also associated with test scores, even after taking into account educational opportunities. There is even a sizable body of evidence that these skills are related to effective leadership and creative achievements at work. Being able to read texts and make sense of them and having strong quantitative reasoning are crucial in the modern information economy.


  Myth: Beyond a Certain Point, Higher Scores Don’t Matter


  Some might concede that these skills are important—but only up to a point, beyond which higher scores don’t matter. It’s an understandable intuition, but the research clearly shows that, all else being equal, more is better.


  Cognitive skills are not the only factor in success, of course. Our own research has demonstrated that, with certain elite cohorts, like applicants for executive positions, the abilities measured by tests are still important but less so than other characteristics. This is the same phenomenon as in professional basketball, where differences in height become less important among the extremely tall. This highlights the need to assess multiple characteristics with high-quality measures.


  Myth: Tests Are Just Measures of Social Class


  Admissions tests aren’t windows into innate talent; rather, they assess skills developed over years of education. They evaluate a student’s capacity to read and interpret complex prose, think critically and reason mathematically.


  Our own comprehensive look at the issue, including a review of the existing literature and analysis of several large national data sets, showed that the tests were valid even when controlling for socioeconomic class. Regardless of their family background, students with good tests scores and high-school grades do better in college than students with lower scores and weaker transcripts.


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