The problem with America’s college entrance exam


These 50 cards represent every person who
took the SAT college entrance exam in 2017. In America, this score — this ranking of
students — is hugely important. Elite schools like Yale or Harvard select
the large majority of their students from this pile —
the top 1 percent of test takers. And it’s not just super elite schools. A public flagship state school, like the University
of Georgia, admits most of its students from this pile. And even a less selective school, like Wichita
State University, admits most of its students from this pile. All three of these ranges are higher than
the average score. This why people pay lots of money to train
for the test with companies like Princeton Review, Kaplan, and PrepScholar. A slightly higher score can make a big difference. That’s also why some really rich people
got caught paying lots of money to help their kids cheat on the test. “Dozens of coaches, actors, and CEOs…” “Felicity Huffman accused of paying $15,000 to have someone either take the exam for their child, or to correct their child’s answers afterward..” Your place in this ranking can have a huge
impact on what opportunities come your way. So it’s worth asking… what exactly does the SAT measure? What does this score actually say about you? To answer this question, we have to start
with this man: Carl Brigham. He was a young psychologist during World War
I who was obsessed with measuring human
intelligence. He would devise puzzles for soldiers that
supposedly measured their intelligence by testing whether they could decode symbols, draw missing parts of a picture, or even complete maze. He concluded that white people of English,
Scottish, and Dutch descent were smartest. At the very bottom were black people and recent
immigrants from Poland and Italy. He ignored the fact that some test takers
didn’t speak English. So answering a question like “How many are
60 guns and 5 guns” could be difficult. He ignored how some people were barred from
receiving an adequate education. Which meant some puzzles, like this one, could
be quite challenging. He just assumed the scores reflected the innate
intelligence of different races. And because of this, he wrote that black people
were so much less intelligent that America should worry about “racial admixture” which
would “incorporate the negro into our racial stock” — and “taint” the population. After World War I, Brigham wrote a new test
to measure the intelligence of prospective college students. He included word and number puzzles, like: Pick the three words below that are most related: Chops, liver, round, fore-quarter, rump, sirloin. Yeah, I don’t know, either. Anyway, Brigham’s exam was called the Scholastic
Aptitude Test. The SAT. The SAT wasn’t very popular at first. In 1941, just 10,000 people took the exam. That was just 1 percent of high school seniors. Most colleges just didn’t need it. They didn’t have that many applicants, partially
because less than 10 percent of people Americans went to college. So they could spend more time with each application. And many elite schools administered their
own entrance exams. Then, World War II ended. Millions of troops returned to the US. And there was a new benefit white veterans
could take advantage of: the GI Bill — which helped them pay for college. And college enrollment skyrocketed. All of a sudden, colleges had way more applications
to sort through. And they needed a tool to help them figure
out who to accept. So they started requiring the SAT, which gave
them some numerical way to rank applicants. Meanwhile, the College Board recognized that
Americans didn’t love the idea of an “intelligence test” determining their future. So they started saying their exam measured
college preparedness. And every few years, they proved it — by
saying their exam, along with high school grades, were a good predictor of how well
students do in college. They still do this. For example, here’s that analysis from this
year. It shows that high school GPA alone gets us
about halfway to predicting college GPA. But the College Board sold schools on this
next part: If we consider SAT scores along with high school GPA, this prediction can
get a bit better. And colleges bought into this rebranding,
and started asking for SAT scores. In 1941, just 10,000 students took the SAT. By 1950, 80,000 students took the exam. By 1960, 800,000 students took the SAT. By the next decade, it rose to a million.. Now, more than 2 million students take the
exam each year. And as the competition for college ramped
up, the applications got stronger. In 1982, the average high school graduate
completed Algebra or maybe Algebra 2. By 2004, the average student was closer to
Trigonometry. Also, more students had extracurriculars on
their applications. In 1992, just 19 percent of high school students
were leaders in an extracurricular activity. Just 12 years later, in 2004, that number
doubled. As the competition got stiffer, students started
applying to way more schools. In 1967, about 40 percent of students applied
to more than two schools. Now, it’s more than 80 percent of students. And a decent chunk of them apply to more than
6 schools. All of this overwhelmed admissions offices. So they started to rely even more on the SATs. In 1993, 46 percent of schools gave “considerable
importance” to SAT scores. By 2005, it was 59 percent. But looming over the increasing weight of
this number, was this other thing the SAT seemed to measure. Wealth. It’s apparent in the data. Here’s a chart of the average SAT scores by
family income. Students whose families earn less than $20,000
score around 890 — way below average. And as we move up the income brackets, students
score higher and higher. The wealthiest students — whose parents earn
more than $200,000 — score an average of 1150. Now, defenders of the SAT have often said
there’s nothing wrong with the test itself. They say this score is just reflecting the
inequality in America. And that’s not wrong. We can follow that logic up the chain. We can start with America’s highly unequal
neighborhoods. Schools in poor neighborhoods are more likely
to be under-resourced. And students from more affluent neighborhoods
and schools tend to score higher on the SAT. In turn, students with better SAT scores go
to more selective colleges. And this system is a cycle. When Stanford researcher Raj Chetty and his
colleagues tracked people born in the early-1980s, he found that these people — who went to
the most selective colleges — — had parents who earned, on average, $171,000
a year. The parents of these people, who went to selective
public colleges, earned $87,000. And those who attended community colleges
had parents who earned $67,000 a year. And through this system, that wealth was passed
on. Chetty and his colleagues found that students
who graduated from these elite colleges earned, on average, $82,500 a year by their early-30s. Those who went to a selective public college
earned half that — $41,600. And those who went to a community college
were at about $30,000. But Chetty and his colleagues found that,
if low-income student gets the opportunity to attend a more selective school, they’re able to graduate — and earn just as much money as their classmates. In 2016, the College Board redesigned the
SAT. The old test tried to trip up test-takers
— for example, asking about the meaning of obscure words like “acrimonious.” The new one tries to test what you’ve learned
in school — to try to make it less of an intelligence test. For example, it’ll show you a sentence like:
The jungle has an intense clustering of bugs. And then ask: What does “intense” most nearly mean? Emotional
Concentrated Brilliant
Determined Still, your SAT score measures how well you’ll
do in college, to a degree. It also measures where you grew up — and
what opportunities you had. But it’s also a tool that keeps this inequality
machine going. College Board president David Coleman sees
this happening. He recently wrote:
“We need a far humbler view of the SAT. They should never be more than one factor
in an admissions decision. Low scores should never be a veto on a student’s
life.” The SAT was created in the pursuit of precision. An effort to measure what we’re capable of — to predict what we can do. What we might do. What we’ve forgotten is that, often, that
can’t be untangled from where we’ve been, what we’ve been through, and what we’ve been given.

100 thoughts on “The problem with America’s college entrance exam”

  1. I didn't have to watch this to understand the major college entrance exams to be not about intelligence of a person. I was taught parallel structure before I took it when the state mandated it and scored hella high..

  2. I’m sorry for my English, but I’d like to say sth about it. I am not stating I am right, I just want to share my opinion. Of course, universities are kind of social elevators, who would argue with that. Although I think we shouldn’t forget about the main purpose of higher education – making new specialists. I don’t think you would be thinking about the family and origins of your doctor while you’re seeing your doctor.
    For example, I am from a relatively poor family (even for Russia). And I had been attending not very good school. Actually, I had to study my main subjects by myself because the level of education in our school was too low. It was too low to enroll to the most prestigious universities of Russia. I used free, open resources, I have spent all my money (not too much, $400) to buy a one-year biology course by Moscow State University. My results were high enough to enroll in every biological/medical faculty in Moscow universities.
    My point is, now we have a lot of free knowledge resources both legal (such as coursera, edX, etc) and illegal (you can download for free almost any book/textbook you want). You will be able to do sth only when you get wanted to sth.
    If you have another opinion I’d love to hear (read, yes) it!

  3. In new zealand we measure a school wealth by deciels out of 10 and my school is a deciel 4 but it was one of the best schools in new zealand. (Also we dont have the SATS in new zealand)

  4. “What we’ve been given.” The definition of privilege. All the advantages that you never had to ask for: college educated parents, being born white, being born in the United States, having two parents instead of one, being safe at home, the list goes on. Privilege does not mean that we do not face challenges, it simply means we don’t face certain challenges for no other reason than because we were born into favorable circumstances.

  5. i actually just cried a little after watching this. i am currently applying for schools and all i want them to know is that i am not just a number.

  6. lol if you think this is bad, just take a look at india. Not even 95 percent score in your high school exams will be able to get you to a top college.

  7. I didn't even try on the SAT because I knew I was gonna start at a Community College anyway even though my grades were good. I won't say it doesn't matter but you can easily go to a community college, Save money, and still transfer to a good school. There is no point in stressing about it unless you're parents are very strict about your grades and test score.

  8. The weird thing is, my family makes 45k a year, but my sisters got into Rhodes and Vanderbilt, one of He best Colleges and even Vandy’s the top 20! Rhodes the second best in TN, under Vandy. We’re defying the odds against life, makes it seem like we can do anything we set our minds to do.

  9. Just go to a community college for at least a semester and you never have to do the SAT! It’s for rich kids who want to show how rich they are

  10. This is really important, education is one of the few pathways for people to change their social standing. However I don't think one should place the blame on a standardized test, alternative options are open to even more corruption. I think the root of the problem is the way universities use students for financial support, escalating tuition fees to a point where even second rate wealthy students are kept in the system. University needs to be really hard, so that those who don't belong quickly shift to more appropriate options. Keeping unqualified students in the class drags everybody else down.

  11. If it measures how well you do why should we stop colleges from deciding who can come to their school. It’s already rigged my friend and I got the same grades in evey class and I got a 1060 and he got a 1120. But he’s white am Mexican and I got accepted into the same collage that we both applied to but guess what he didn’t get in

  12. Personally, I don't think the SAT measures wealth. It measures how hard you work in school. The people who get sub-par scores on the SAT in my school are often those who don't take their education seriously and mess around in class. They are satisfied with a C on a "hard test" and aren't willing to work harder to get the better score they want. I took the SAT in 8th grade because I wanted to attend CTY and got a 1440 with no prep. I'm not particularly smart and by no means rich but I worked hard in all my classes and I believe that's what got me the score. I hope to improve my score through practice and score better next time.

  13. Every video you make has a tremendous amount of creativity, hardwork , research and outstanding explanation and not to mention the brilliant background music and artistry. keep it up !! Love from India 💖🙇‍♂️

  14. A lot of things about the education system are far from ideal, there isn't even a need to get to the SAT yet, because even before that, there are flaws; schools focus on teaching very specific subjects but don't even teach things that are so basic, things that could help a lot of people to be socially and economicaly self-sufficient, on top of that, they don't encourage creativity on their students, pushing us all to follow the same path or think the same way, and even worse, they pretend to evaluate all students by the same standards, like if all people were just one big variable that can measured with a simple numeric scale, when in reality we all have different good things to offer. I think a different, more flexible education system would be the perfect ingredient for a better world.

  15. No matter what you do, the lower classes aren’t going to know as much and go to good colleges, even if the SAT wasn’t around. People in poorer neighborhoods have crappier schools so they aren’t taught well, so they don’t know much academically, don’t go to a great college, don’t earn much money, and the cycle continues. I’m not saying the SAT isn’t encouraging this, with highly expensive SAT prep and such, but it’s a much bigger issue than the SATs. We need better funded schools in poor neighborhoods, and more help for students struggling with home and school life in poor neighborhoods. Period.

  16. I don't know about you guys, but a 1200 sat is an abysmal score and honestly anyone can get that no matter their wealth

  17. and the anomaly ? those at the higher bracket that perform poorly and those at the lower bracket that perform excellently.
    now um from these two anomalies who is gonna end up being successful in life?

  18. Meanwhile in China, the colleges are giving 100% "considerable importance" to college entrance exam "GaoKao"…I assume that would be the same trend for SAT when population grows and competition gets more intense. I mean, most of Chinese 80-90s generations are single child and most of Americans from that generations have siblings, correct? I feel bad if SAT is turning into GaoKao, it is too stressful…

  19. Well it's not the best system, but you don't want students to fall behind the pace of the courses or a student who was never taught something which is a prerequisite for a needed course. A perspective student who hasn't been prepared will likely fail. So it logical though not ideal, but you never get ideal in the real world.

  20. Notice how there wasn't really a viable resolution presented. its because issue itself is overpopulation relative to the number of good higher education institutions. its unfixable for now unless something drastic changes

  21. Then just be pro school choice so that talented poor kids can go to better schools based on their inteligence not their familys income

  22. I mean we could also argue that wealthier families usually have really smart parents and their offsprings kids often are just as smart. Nurture goes along with nature. You can grow up poor and become successful if you are committed to your goals. My mother was an example. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the test.

  23. Brother I took it in 1972 and it was all about thought pattern. I went on to University, I say it was all worth it. To this day I come and go as I please, do you?

  24. I had an sat score of 1200 and still went to community college because it's much cheaper and yes I'm low income

  25. Why do I feel him saying that low income is a factor of how well u did on a test is very prejudgmental. Like there’s no way a poor person would do great on the SATs

  26. Its all reading comprehension, and reading speed, at least it was when I took it in the early 2000s. Its a timed test, and even the math section is all word problems, if you can can not skim and read quickly, it doesn't matter how intelligent you are. I got a 1300 on my SAT, my best friend who was just as smart as me, took all the same classes, studied with me, and even had a better GPA than me got an 880 because he reads slowly. This is under the old scores where the max score was 1400.

  27. Here universities are really competetive because everything it based solely on exam results, you can get up to 625 points (max 100 per subject, with a 25 point bonus for doing higher level maths) and for the first time ever this year the required points for a specific college course went up to 601 points of 625. Meaning you had to either get over 90% in 6 subjects or take higher maths for the bonus and get mostly over 90% and maybe a lower grade. It's really hard.

  28. I’m in the lower/middle class and I got a 31 on the ACT (1400 on SAT) and I didn’t spend any money on it other than the $20 to actually take it. If you really really want to do good on it you will find a way. I personally think all those websites that advertise tutoring for a higher SAT score are scams because you can find that same stuff by just asking around. Schools are forced to at least cover all the material that is in the SAT/ACT, and most of the answers to the questions are in the test itself, needing no prior knowledge.

    Edit: the real test of wealth is actually being able to pay for the college you can get in to. I will still probably go to an in state public school because I can’t pay for anything higher even though I know I can get in.

  29. I don’t know what US y’all live in, but I have never heard of a kid from my school even taking an SAT. We offer a free ACT in the spring but that’s it. Some kids take it more to better their score but I don’t know of anyone to take an SAT

  30. We should have a test that measures your ability to learn and not just how much a person currently knows/is able to remember compared to everyone else.

  31. you americans do it when you’re 17or 18, we singapore kids have to do this when we’re 12 and then again when we’re 17 and then again for uni smh

  32. It would be great if this was fixed and education was truly equal, but that’s sadly not happening anytime soon if ever

  33. Idk i live in a poor area of Mississippi and I've taken the act to make a 30 and plan on a 1400 on the Sat. It's just nornal math and reading comprehension in modern times

  34. Wow i got a low score on the SAT, applied to 3 schools and my got into my Top choice of school which is notorious for only letting a small number in. My GPA was high and I had a good college essay so that was probably what got me in.

  35. People with high level iq are able to get the highest score in exams so get a higher job with higher salary who's children have higher iq then average so! are able to get the highest score in exams so get a higher job with higher salary who children have higher iq then average so

    on so forth

  36. I come from a relatively poor family and have gotten a 1510. I'm now studying at Northwestern. There's always exceptions. Don't blame your low scores on your income. Work hard. Study well. There's plenty of resources both in paper and online that will help you achieve a 1600.

  37. Honestly I got lucky because I didn’t study and got a 1470 first try. Admittedly though my high school was pretty good at teaching me the concepts on the test.

  38. It's not hard to do something if you really wanted to, why is it so hard for some high school students to take some time off their gaming session for some weeks and really study for it? I studied for about a month and a half during summer break and I easily got 1520. There is nothing wrong with it if you are disciplined

  39. Is no one else going to comment on the absurdity of 37% of applicants being leaders in some extracurricular? Given how many people apply to college, that’s practically one “leader” per 3-5 people!

  40. I never took the SAT or ACT, I just walked into a community college and told them I wanted to attend. They gave me their version of a placement test, which I did well enough in that they let me choose my own courses. After one year of taking only classes that would be accepted as transfer credits, I transferred away to the state college. No time was wasted taking any classes that wouldn't be counted towards my intended degree from the start. And no worries were had about what score I would get on those tests or how much I would have to study for them.

  41. Malaysia has broken this cycle where the poor, who were mostly of Malay ethnicity, are able to attend university and earn a better living through the introduction of UiTM: Universiti Teknologi MARA.

  42. Dont let this fool you. I never took the SAT in high school, only the TSI which I took online and was granted full financial aide at a local college.

  43. That doesn’t count the fact that a lot of students get really nervous about testing and theirgrades are way better than their SAT scores but their grades aren’t really taken into account as much as SAT scores

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