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A student stresses while studying for an exam. Experts say universities should consider making the test optional and students should take them less seriously.
The SATs can be good for behaviorally challenged slackers who just happen to be great test-takers. A 1600 can get them into a great college, despite horrible grades and discipline problems. But is the test really good for anyone else?
Yes, but more colleges should consider making it optional, according to a new study released by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Researcher Phillip Ballinger, who is director of admissions at the University of Washington, explains the results to Madeleine Brand.
The test can be useful so long as it's used in broad context as part of a comprehensive review of a student, Ballinger says.
"Universities need to do their own research and to be able to understand clearly the benefit, if any, of using the tests for admission and other purposes," he says. If their research finds that test results are not useful, "then we ask them to consider dropping the use of the test."
Similarly, he urges students to take the test a little less seriously. These days it's not uncommon for students to take the test more than twice "because of this sense of anxiety and urgency," he says. But really, there's little added benefit except in extreme situations.
Likewise, parents need to stop and think whether it's really worth paying thousands for study help, he says. The SAT and ACT prep industry generates more than $1 billion annually. Many of the more expensive test-prep programs claim that students will increase their scores by 100 points — but, according to the report, the average gain is only 20 to 30 points.
Ballinger says he hopes the findings will help "give more permission for people to have serious conversations" about whether it's worth spending so much time, money and anxiety on standardized tests and "to let some steam out of this whole thing."