Those dreaded Admission TESTS!


I posed this way back in July, but some recent queries leads me to think its worth putting up again…

My legal counsel advises me to remind you that the information in these notes does not necessarily reflect the views of this institution. How cool is that? Now on to a bit about standardized tests

All I really remember about taking the SAT is dots. A LOT of dots. I think I tried to fill them in so that they formed a bunny. While entertaining, this did not lead to a higher score. At least I can tell you how most colleges do and don’t use these scores.

NEWS BULLETIN: your test scores don’t actually tell us how smart you are. They don’t tell us how clever you are, how creatively you think, how well you dress, how your popularity is unmatched, or how gosh darned cute you can be. The scores just tell us how well you did on that test. Since (what a relief) once you’re in college you won’t have to take the ACT or SAT ever again, they really don’t tell us all that much. There is some predictive value IF we use the scores with your academic information, but even then it’s pretty weak (for those of you obsessed with numbers, check out detailed studies at http://www.collegeboard.com/, http://www.admissions.gmu.edu/freshmen/ScoreOptional.asp , and http://www.fairtest.org/).

Why use them at all? Grades can differ from teacher to teacher, not to mention ranks and GPAs from school to school. The tests are one thing colleges can compare across the board. We know they aren’t very strong predictors, but at least it’s SOMETHING that is the same for all of you, unlike that award you got for being extra nice to your English teacher (you know which one). Worse, students use test scores to judge the colleges! It was all well and good for us to turn you into numbers, but we’re still pretty cranky about you turning the tables. This led to a race to see which schools could have the best scores – and here we are.

Fortunately, no matter how many times you take the tests, we’ll take the best score from any time you took the test to get the best possible total. Colleges say they use your best scores because they “care about you.” I, of course, care deeply about each of you (no, really)…but even if I thought you were pretty much a dirt-bag, I would still use your best score because it makes my school look good!

Can test prep help? The College Board swore prep courses had no impact, then they started selling prep services too. (Quick test. This is: a) ironic b) dumb c) confusing d) all of the above.) Students can raise their scores using materials from bookstores or online for low costs, or even free at the library. Those students, however, are self-motivated. They take practice tests and learn strategies. Those of you who are more inclined to log into Warcraft instead of cracking the books may want to consider a prep course.

The largest factor in test scores tends to be your stress level. So just RELAX! (Hyperventilation during the test, in my totally made up survey, happens all the time, as does showing up for school in just your underwear, and realizing at the end of the year that you never once showed up for some class but you still have to take the exam!).

You also get to take the new writing test, which doesn’t actually grade the kind of writing you are likely to do in college, or ever again in your life. Maybe future versions will require doing math with an abacus. Even so, some colleges use the scores since they are kind of like the old SAT II writing test, and the SAT II writing test was kind of predictive of performance. Plus, it makes those schools look really choosy, and more choosy means a better school, right? (If it works for peanut butter, why not for education?). So some schools will want the writing test, others won’t. So take the writing test, but don’t sweat it. If you do well, great, there are a lot of schools that will want you for your ability to master timed writing. If you don’t, a ton of us (Mason included) really don’t care what your writing test score was and will ignore it completely. Anyhow, writing is good. And drugs are bad. These are valuable lessons and I am glad to be the first to share them with you.

Also, a bunch of schools are totally score optional. This means that you can either apply with no scores, or you can be considered for admission apart from your scores if you have attained a series of other academic achievements (great courses, high grades, really impressive dating history, etc.). This may be particularly interesting since George Mason University is the largest competitive institution in the U.S. with a full score optional admission program (admissions.gmu.edu/scoreoptional for details)…I know it keeps me interested!

Once again you’ve made it to the end of my rambling, and once again I hope you get in everywhere you apply, you get every scholarship you want, and (why would this change?) I hope you decide the only place for you is George Mason University. Be seeing you!

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3 Responses

  1. I’m hoping to attend a four year public university in my city and I was rather–aha, *rubs my hair in embarrassment*–depending on my test scores (2010 SAT) to slide me in easy. Reading your post pretty much dashed my hopes (I hope you don’t feel bad =D) so now my main concern about my score is: will it help get scholarships? I’ve been lazy to apply independently and I’m in my senior year (home stretch, man) so if individual colleges give scholarships for high scores, is mine high enough and how much could I expect to get if it is?Thanks a bunch, sir, for any consideration, no matter how late.Sincerely, Codename: MiaowPS. According to you it seems like I’m gunna have to demonstrate to PSU just how awesome I am…. heeheehee, man, that’ll be hard.

  2. Sad to say, primary consideration for most scholarship dollars will still depend on academic record far more than test scores – however there are a number of institutions in search of high profile scores that may be of help. Bear in mind that quite a few still only look at the math and verbal – particularly for scholarships since the writing test doesn’t figure (yet!) into the college ranking systems.Best of luck with PSU – or wherever you may go..and remember that a strong upturn in grades, even late in the senior year, can argue strongly in your favor if your on the borderline for an admit. And by striving to improve your grades you might, and I know how trivial this must sound to those dealing with the admission process, actually learn something of value!

  3. I am planning on going to Mason and I took an SAT in May and got a 1410 (which is horrible!!!) I know that the score doesn’t reflect how I do in school at all and after reading that blog it made me feel reassured that the SATs weren’t that big of a deal. I’m going to go check out that website about the full score optional program now.
    Thank you so much for this blog!

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