The College Board, the organization that develops and administers the SAT, recently released a series of statistics with worrying implications for students in pursuit of higher education.
Of those individuals who sat for the SAT in 2013, only 43 percent reached or exceeded the College Board's bar for college preparedness, the report states. Students who achieved this score were deemed more likely to graduate from a higher education program within four years.
But what about the other 57 percent – the majority of American high school students who took the test – who failed to meet this designation? Is it possible for students to improve their SAT scores in the coming years and therefore better prepare themselves for higher education? Yes.
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First, understand that the exam has flaws. It's not hard to find a headline that condemns educators and students for the 2013 SAT results. Low marks are cause for attention, but students and parents must take comfort in the fact that the circumstances and situation are not entirely as they appear.
The average SAT score in 2013 was a 1498. However, high school students' performance on this test has remained relatively consistent over the last half-decade. The 2013 scores are poor, but their decline is not precipitous.
Some point to an increase in test-takers from all walks of academic life and a disconnect between what SAT creators view as central to school success and what higher education institutions actually require of students as they prepare for college as reasons for the decline.
Exam vocabulary, for instance, may not always reflect the language used in high school and university classrooms. Students need to appreciate the difference between what the SAT recognizes as intelligence and what real-life scenarios require for success.
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This requires re-evaluating the skills and knowledge necessary for success in higher education and the workforce. While terms like "lachrymose" and "obdurate" are rife on the SAT, it may not be as important for a university student to commit them to memory as it is to be able to concisely articulate a specific perspective. And trigonometry is not a central component of readiness for many careers.
For the class of 2014, the college admissions process is decidedly not going to change. Students can significantly improve their marks by understanding one important reality: The SAT is a test. It does not measure innate intelligence.
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It does not even assess an individual's high school growth. It evaluates a student's ability to recognize a problem type and employ an appropriate solution or strategy.
The SAT can be taught, and it should not be correlated to inherent academic aptitude. Instead, recognize the test's relationship to critical thinking and problem-solving, and study accordingly.
The College Board intends to revise both its SAT content and delivery in the near future, a major change that high school underclassmen should begin familiarizing themselves with now. This is an important first step in developing an authentic form of assessment that would directly relate to students' lives and be able to more accurately measure their intelligence and skill sets.
Until then, students should recognize the test's relationship to critical thinking and problem-solving. When students believe they can excel at a given task, their likelihood of doing so dramatically increases. Explicit instruction in this regard, whether via text or tutor, is the best and most immediate response to low SAT scores.
Caroline Duda is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. She earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign and a bachelor's degree from Saint Lawrence University.