The SAT’s Past and Future

A piece in The New Yorker traces the history of the SAT — and its future.

Curious about the history of the SAT? Or about how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped The College Board’s business model? There’s an outstanding piece in The New Yorker by Eren Orbey that shines a lantern on how the ubiquitous standardized test has changed since its inception (and particularly over these last couple of years) as well as how folks in the college admissions community believe the test will be considered in the years to come. In short? The SAT’s heyday is likely behind it, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

Some key takeaways from the piece entitled “How the Pandemic Remade the SAT“? Cornell’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick states that 30% of Cornell’s entering first-year class in 2022 chose not to submit test scores under the school’s test-optional policy. By our arithmetic, this means — unsurprisingly — that 70% of students, the vast majority, did choose to submit test scores. And why would they do so? Because these students aren’t naïve. They know — as we’ve said to much criticism since the start of the pandemic — that, all else being equal, students with great test scores will always have an advantage over students with no test scores under test-optional admissions policies. Another takeaway? College Board CEO David Coleman tried to dismiss the losses suffered by the move to test-optional admissions, citing “the pleasure of being nonprofit.” Uh huh. As though the maker of the SAT doesn’t care about turning a profit. And as to the changes the organization has made to its signature exam (including rolling out electronic testing), the outspoken leader of FairTest, Bob Schaeffer, equated the moves to “largely rearranging deck chairs, or putting lipstick on a pig.” Oh Bob!

In any case, have a gander at the terrific piece in The New Yorker to understand how the SAT has changed over time (remember the unknown experimental section that didn’t count?), how test-optional admissions has proliferated since Bowdoin pioneered the policy back in 1969 (but notably since it caught on at the start of the pandemic), and how The College Board hopes to remain relevant. It’s worth the read.

 
 

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