AJ Tutoring Blog

Connecting you to news, advice and academic resources

The Role of Standardized Tests (SAT/ACT) in College Admissions: A Balanced Perspective


I want to talk to you about the role of the SAT/ACT in college admissions.

Full Disclosure

I run a test prep company and directly benefit from colleges requiring SAT and ACT tests as part of the application process. I began my tutoring career as an SAT skeptic. Although I did well on the SAT exam in high school, contributing to my acceptance at UC Davis, I felt the test didn’t fully reflect the skills that made me a successful student. Particularly, the time-restricted component didn’t account for the hard work and willingness to stick with a task, which is central to success in college coursework. However, through working with thousands of students in preparation for the SAT and ACT exams, I’ve come to view these tests as incredibly valuable measures of whether a student has grasped basic content knowledge and skills fundamental to success in college, like reading comprehension, basic mathematical reasoning, and attention to detail.

The Debate Around Standardized Tests:

The utility of standardized tests, particularly the SAT/ACT in college admissions, has been a topic of intense discussion in recent years. Recent articles from The New York Times and The Atlantic have shed light on various aspects of this debate, offering insights crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the issue.

The New York Times Perspective:

A recent article in The New York Times titled “The Misleading SAT Debate” discusses the complexities surrounding the use of standardized tests in college admissions. The article argues that while standardized tests are often criticized for being biased against certain groups, they also play a significant role in highlighting disparities in K-12 education systems and are useful in identifying students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have enormous potential. The article states that “standardized tests are less biased than many other parts of the college application process, like extracurricular activities, college essays, and teacher recommendations.” The president of Brown University has been vocal about the need to reexamine the use of these tests, suggesting that while they should not be the sole criterion for admission, they can be an essential tool in understanding a student’s academic potential.

Insights from The Atlantic:

The Atlantic’s article “The University of California Is Lying to Us” takes a critical stance on the University of California’s decision to drop the SAT and ACT from its admissions process. The article suggests that this move might inadvertently disadvantage the very groups it aims to help. It points out that standardized tests can sometimes be a more reliable indicator of college readiness than high school grades, which can vary widely in their standards.

A Balanced Approach to Standardized Testing:

In light of these perspectives, it becomes evident that a balanced approach to standardized testing in college admissions is necessary. While it’s true that standardized tests have limitations and can reflect socioeconomic disparities, they don’t cause those disparities, and they also offer a uniform metric to assess academic readiness across diverse educational backgrounds. Let’s be careful not to break the mirror because we don’t like what we see.

  1. Highlighting Educational Disparities: Standardized tests can expose gaps in the K-12 education system, offering valuable data on where improvements are needed. They can be a tool for accountability, ensuring that schools provide a quality education that prepares students for higher education.
  2. Beyond Sole Reliance: Relying solely on standardized test scores for college admissions is problematic. However, when used in conjunction with other metrics such as GPA, extracurricular activities, and personal essays, they can provide a more holistic view of a student’s abilities and potential. When used together, research repeated that these metrics are more predictive of college success and outcome than any of the metrics in isolation.
  3. Opportunity for Standardization: In a landscape where high school grading systems vary significantly, standardized tests offer a common benchmark. This can be particularly beneficial for students from underrepresented or underfunded schools, whose grades might not accurately reflect their potential when compared to students from more affluent schools.
  4. Need for Continuous Reevaluation: The debate around standardized tests is not static. As educational practices and societal norms evolve, so should our approach to these tests. Continuous reevaluation and adaptation of these tests can ensure they remain relevant and fair.
  5. Addressing Inherent Biases: It’s crucial to acknowledge and address the biases present in the standardized testing system. This includes ensuring that test preparation resources are accessible to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. This is what we at AJ Tutoring place great importance on in our social outreach program, enabling us to provide our services to all students regardless of parental income.
  6. Varying SAT Outcomes Across Groups: SAT and ACT outcomes vary across racial and socio-economic groups, but these are symptoms of a deeper problem. The tests are like a thermometer; when it shows we have a fever, we don’t blame the thermometer. Instead, we find the underlying illness and address it directly. The tests themselves are not the problem; it’s the unequal educational system in our country. It’s time to stop blaming the SAT and ACT exams, start improving our early education system, and provide equal support for parents across racial and socio-economic backgrounds.


While standardized tests are not without their flaws, they still play a vital role in the college admissions process. A nuanced approach that recognizes both their benefits and limitations, and seeks to improve their fairness and accessibility, is essential. As we move forward, it’s important to keep the dialogue open, listen to diverse perspectives, and make data-driven decisions that serve the best interests of all students. Currently, all the data points to standardized tests as a valuable tool in predicting college readiness and success. Perhaps it’s the best tool we currently have.



Let's discuss your student's academic tutoring, test prep, or college counseling needs!

Our test prep, academic tutoring, and college admissions counseling professionals are here to help you navigate the test taking maze, share our experience with your local school, and inspire your student.

Talk to a Director
Peninsula Main Phone Number (650) 331-3251
Free Consultation