So much time and energy is spent in preparing for the SAT. Many consider it the gate keeper to their college acceptance. It is a way to distinguish oneself on a level playing field from all others who are attempting to gain admission to college, but what is the SAT really? Is it an IQ test? Is it a college prep test? Does one really have to succeed on the SAT to do well in college?
It is probably best to begin with what the SAT is not. The SAT is NOT an IQ test. Once again, the SAT is NOT an IQ test! Doing well or poorly on the SAT does not make a student “smart” or “dumb” and the SAT is not a predictor of a person’s mental acuity (even tests that are supposed to measure IQ tend to be deeply flawed, but that is neither here nor there).
The SAT is also NOT a predictor of how well a student will do in college beyond the first semester or so. For many students who do not excel at standardized tests, the SAT is not even a good indicator of proficiency at certain academic skills. Performing well on the SAT is also not required for admittance to a number of reputable institutions of higher learning, though for a great many others, a good SAT score is very helpful in distinguishing one student from a number of other qualified applicants.
So what is the SAT? The SAT is a SKILLS test. It tests on a number of copy editing skills, including spotting common grammar and usage problems and improving sentences that have errors. It tests the ability to write an ANALYTICAL essay and tests the ability to synthesize basic algebra and geometry skills in slightly unconventional contexts.
The SAT is an objective test. There are clear right and wrong answers for ALL multiple choice questions, and the SAT is curved so that the scores represent where students fall in a distribution curve of all students who take the SAT. The SAT is long. It takes between three and four hours and it is exhausting.
Finally, what does all this mean for students? Since the SAT is not an IQ, or aptitude test, but is, instead, a SKILLS test, students can learn the skills necessary to succeed on the SAT. Once again, the essential skills for the SAT are as follows:
- Algebra, Geometry, Graphing, And Probability
- Basic Editing
- Writing A Five Paragraph Essay
- Analyzing Paragraphs For Intent And Content
Since these skills can be learned, if a student is unhappy with their initial score, there is a lot that can be done to improve it. The SAT favors people who prepare specifically for the test (this is true of nearly every standardized test), so the best way to improve an SAT score is to work on the applicable skills and get used to the kinds of questions the SAT asks.
This is just an overview of what the SAT is and is not. The big take away is that the SAT is not a measure of intelligence, so those who find the SAT challenging should not fall into the trap of questioning their own intelligence. Instead, try to identify what skills need the most work and endeavor to improve in those areas. Success on the SAT may take some work, but the benefits that it bestows in terms of access to certain schools, potential scholarships, and differentiation from other applicants is well worth the effort. Happy studying!
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David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.