The Fairness of Standardized Tests


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By Claire Deal

There are many parts to the college admissions process. The Common Application consists of achievements, extracurriculars, essays, a high school transcript, and standardized test scores. Although there are other types of applications specialized to certain schools, most of them are still fairly similar to the Common Application.

Standardized testing has been a standard part of the college admission process since the end of World War II. The idea behind standardized tests emerged from the Industrial Revolution, where children no longer worked on the family farm or in factories, but instead began attending school. Standardized tests were “an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly.” In the 21st century, however, standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT are just two out of the several standardized tests, including Advanced Placement exams and subjects tests, that high school students can take. Standardized tests have become one of the most significant factors in the college admission process.

One of the many criticisms of standardized tests such as the ACT and the SAT is that they can be a financial burden to some families. Registering for the SAT costs $46 without the essay, and $60 with the essay. Additional costs could include: registering by phone (which costs $15), changing test centers, changing the date, switching to take a subject test ($29), registering late ($29), and getting off the waitlist the day of the tests ($49).

The College Board does recognize financial limitations by offering to waive the registration fees if a family qualifies, but they do not provide assistance for the additional costs. The waiver allows for a student to register for free for up to two SATs, with or without the SAT essay, and up to two SAT subject tests, in addition to other things, like application fees. The financial waiver doesn’t cover every cost, and it only covers costs to a certain extent. For example, there are many colleges that recommend or require subject tests. Disadvantaged students who can’t afford to pay for subject tests are then hindered from applying to those schools, which is unfair.

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To ensure success on the SAT and other standardized tests, students from higher-income families are more likely to be able to take the SAT as many times as necessary to ensure a high score. If a disadvantaged student can only afford to take the test if the registration fee is waived, then they would only be able to take two tests. This is an unfair advantage, because students from higher income families have a better chance of raising their scores if they can retake it several times.

In addition to unlimited opportunities to take the test, students in higher income families can afford SAT prep classes or private tutors. Tutors can easily exceed $50 an hour, which adds up if you have one session a week for a few months. A study looking at SAT scores and economic inequality showed that “students from wealthy families tend to outscore students from low-income families by about 400 points.” 400 points could greatly influence the college decision, as test scores nationwide are highly competitive. Students from wealthy backgrounds then may have an advantage over students from low-income families in the quest to get into top-rated colleges; not because of intellect or ability, but because of increased opportunities and financial abilities.

Why does it matter? Why do students need to have high SAT scores? Due to the majority of colleges requiring standardized testing, it is crucial to get the highest score you can get to increase your chance of getting into a better school, which will, in theory, better prepare you for success in your career after college. According to test tutor Francesca Fulciniti of, “SAT scores do predict college success – to an extent. The relationship isn’t particularly strong, which means that if you have high SAT scores, you’re only slightly more likely to have higher college grades than a student who had lower scores.” Grades and GPA reflect more than simply test-taking skills; they show hard work, intellectual ability over a long period of time, and how much a student is willing to challenge themselves with class selection, unlike standardized tests.

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Despite the unfair advantages to standardize testing, there are some alternatives. John Allen Paulos of ABC News makes an interesting point about the SAT. He states that “the SAT is a flawed predictor, but it is also relatively objective and, among other virtues, sometimes provides a way for the bright, yet socially inept student to be recognized.” He also believes that “without it, colleges would undoubtedly place more emphasis on high school grades and extracurricular activities, measures that also have serious shortcomings — grade inflation and meaningless resume-puffing being the main ones.”

James Montoya is Chief of Membership, Governance, and Global Higher Education and Secretary of the Corporation of the College Board, the organization that oversees and implements standardized testing. He states that “the more information in the college admission process, the better.” It is excruciatingly difficult to create a test that is completely fair for all students, because there will be advantages and disadvantages for every student.

Having high SAT or ACT scores does not mean you are going to be successful in college, but it does give you an advantage of getting into a more prestigious school, which might allow you to get a better job after college. All schools should look at a student as a whole and not place emphasis on one particular area of the application, like a standardized test score.

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About the author

Claire Deal is a junior at Collegiate.