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teachers' guide: secrets of the sat


Enhanced video clip "What is the SAT and what does it measure?" (Click to watch clip)
In cue 23:12, narrator: "Betsy's classmate at Kennedy High, JK Delane, is also working hard on his application to Berkeley." Out cue 27:25, Lemann: "He thought the test would cancel out the advantage that parents pass on to children and it just doesn't do that."

In this clip viewers meet JK Delane, in many respects an ideal college applicant except for his SAT score-an 850 out of 1600. JK worries that this score will prevent him from getting into UC Berkeley, but many experts question the level of obsession over this test. What does the SAT really measure? "The sole scientific claim made by the its capacity to predict first-year grades," says Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, Inc. Statistics show the SAT measures about 18% of the variance in freshman year college grades, while high school grades measure about 20% of this variance. Neither of these criteria have determinant value in predicting a student's graduating GPA.

Once referred to as the "Scholastic Aptitude Test" and thought to measure a student's innate ability, the college entrance exam administered by The College Board has undergone at least two name changes-first to "Scholastic Assessment Test" and later simply to "SAT." This name-change illustrates shifts in The College Board's claim about what exactly the SAT measures. According to Wayne Camara, Director of the Office of Research at The College Board, the SAT measures "developed reasoning" linked directly to the "depth and breadth of learning" acquired over time-both in and out of school.

Discussion questions

  1. What do you feel is a better measure of your college potential-SAT scores or high school grades? Why?
  2. What other factors besides the SAT are considered in college admissions (i.e., grades, extracurricular activity, recommendations, essays)?
  3. What do you think college admissions offices look for when reviewing applications (i.e., grades, mix of talents, activities, dedication, depth, passion, leadership and/or teamwork)?
  4. What skills do you think are important for succeeding in college?
See Handout "What Does the SAT Measure?" for more on this topic.
(download in handouts in MS Word format - 153K)
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