frontlineabout us program schedule teachers join us contact us

teachers' guide: secrets of the sat


Enhanced video clip "How do SAT scores influence admissions?"
(Click to watch clip)
In cue 39:55, Berkeley admissions staff: "There are a lot of puzzles in this application." Out cue 43:41, Laird: "I think people who are really supportive of diversity all feel that sense of tension between fidelity to the law of California and our own personal values, and the things that many of us have worked for for most of our adult lives. And that part is hard."

This clip offers a glimpse into UC Berkeley admissions after Proposition 209, which mandates that the school can no longer consider race in admissions.

Although no one argues that schools should limit themselves to standardized test scores in deciding whom to admit, there is much controversy over the use of race as an additional factor. While many schools claim that they look at race as one of many factors (along with geographical distribution, alumni legacy status, family income, and musical, artistic, or athletic ability), opponents of this practice contend that race has become the basis for a largely separate set of admissions standards and procedures. This, they contend, violates the Constitution's requirement that all citizens be granted equal protection of the laws. Currently, several lawsuits are underway in federal courts, and the Supreme Court may rule on the matter in the next few years.

Ask students/parents for their opinions about the progressive new model for admissions demonstrated in the clip and used by UC Berkeley and University of Virginia.

Discussion questions:

  1. What would you look for in a college applicant if you were an admissions officer?
  2. What are the challenges to and possibilities for maximizing diversity in the admissions process?
  3. How would you evaluate SAT scores? (Encourage participants to check out the "Secrets of the SAT" Web site,, where they can go inside an admissions screening process, review student essays, GPAs, and test scores, and try their hand at selecting students for admission to UC Berkeley.)
Visit the "Secrets of the SAT" Web site
to see real college applications and see who got in.
backtable of contentsnext page
home | about frontline | program schedule | teachers | join | contact us
pbs online | wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation