The company behind the SAT finally admits what everyone knew: You can game the test

Game faces.
Game faces.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
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A score on the US college entrance exam known as the SAT is meant to be an indicator of a student’s overall academic prowess—but in reality, as many counselors and teachers already know, it’s more a reflection of how hard they studied for the SAT.

After decades of denying that the scandal-ridden, oft-condemned exam can be gamed with proper coaching, the organization that administers the SAT finally admits that it can. In a statement this week, the College Board said that studying for the test for a certain number of hours with an official practice exam available on the education platform Khan Academy is associated with significant score increase.

The test is scored out of 1600, making increases of around 100 points quite significant.

“Researchers confirmed that practice advanced students regardless of gender, race, income, and high school GPA. The College Board will further explore the role of motivation in producing these results as well as how best to encourage more students to practice productively,” the organization said in the statement.

Educators have raised concerns for years about the advantages of extra practice hours, arguing that the SAT unfairly favors students who have the time, knowledge, and often money to study specifically for it. But the College Board has been insisting since 1955 that “if the board’s test can be regularly beaten through coaching, then the board is itself discredited.”

Rich families who can afford private tutors have long understood the benefits of SAT coaching. A student from a low-income background who goes to school in an under-achieving district, though, is unlikely to be aware of the same—and often assumes that the test is a fair assessment that can be taken blindly. That disparity has spurred mounting criticism that the SAT contributes to national inequality.

Nearly a thousand colleges and universities in the US have already dropped the SAT from their application requirements, many citing the exam’s limitations as a universal standard of ability. The College Board, despite admitting that pre-test prep can substantially boost scores, maintains its test is secure and fair.

“We believe in practice, and particularly practice that is personalized to pinpoint areas where learners need additional help. Preparing for the new SAT is the same as preparing for college,” a spokesperson for the College Board said to Quartz in an email. “Our partnership with Khan Academy is leveling the playing field and is delivering opportunities for all students.”

This post has been updated with a statement from the College Board.