Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

CNHI News Service Originals

March 18, 2014

I used to be terrified of the SATs. This is why I'm not anymore.

— I tried. I really did. When the College Board announced its latest SAT changes and my e-mail box overflowed with analyses of their importance for the future of our republic, I tried to ignore them.

The SAT and its feisty competitor, the ACT, are the most discussed and feared exams in the country, but I learned long ago that they don't deserve all that attention. I wanted to let this latest SAT freak-out pass without my mentioning it. I decided to weigh in only when otherwise intelligent people began to suggest even more bizarre changes to the test, such as adding ways to measure emotional maturity and creativity.

No one will pay attention to me, of course. Too many of us have invested our hopes in the SAT. It is so much a part of our nightmares that we couldn't free ourselves if we tried.

I have had some scares. In the Army, the Viet Cong rocketed my base several times. While reporting in Alaska, I fell asleep at the wheel and put my rental car in a ditch. My wife and I had the usual heart-stopping moments raising three children.

But I have never been as frightened as I was during my one SAT experience (back then, we never thought of taking it more than once). I discovered I had only three minutes left to answer 20 questions. Let me put this delicately. Only my mother, who did my laundry, knows the depth of my terror.

I tried to forget about that. But I became interested in the college admissions process as my children grew up. I wrote many articles and eventually a book on the topic. I had the advantage of being a volunteer interviewer for my selective alma mater. That opened my eyes to how trivial an impact the SAT and ACT have on the selection process, even if many Americans believe a high score gets you into the college of your choice.

To start with, few colleges are very selective. The vast majority will take almost anybody with decent grades, plus some applicants whose grades are bad but improving. Your GPA is still the best predictor of college success. At least 300 colleges, including most of the big state schools, have educational resources and alumni as good as Princeton's. Many of them don't require the SAT or ACT.

As for the colleges that reject far more applicants than they accept, a top score puts you only in the maybe pile. If you have an SAT score of at least 2100 (or 1400, once we switch back to the old 1600 system) you likely will get a close look. But even the highest score doesn't guarantee admission.

My impression from three decades of interviewing admission officers, high school counselors and students is that at big-name colleges, extracurricular activities (no more than two great ones, not a lot of little ones), teacher recommendations and essays make the difference, in descending order of importance.

Rather than fret over the SAT, Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, recommends that students take the most challenging high school courses they can handle, get deeply involved in one or two activities, and get to know one or two teachers very well. My best essay tip is to be warm and humorous, with a dash of self-deprecation. Celebrations of how great you are will convince admissions officers that you would be an irksome bore on campus.

Even when The Washington Post was still a corporate partner of Kaplan Inc., I recommended against spending money on SAT prep courses. I paid for one my daughter wanted to take because she, like most people, feared the SAT. I wanted her to be comfortable. It did not improve her score significantly. Students like her who pay attention in class and do their homework will get into fine colleges.

Many smart applicants don't believe that. But they will discover that success in life, as the research shows, has little to do with the SAT average of one's alma mater. It's what you learn and how hard you work, not what you score, that counts.

 

1
Text Only
CNHI News Service Originals
  • Michigan ex-prosecutor arrested in murder-for-hire plot

    A former Michigan prosecutor was charged Monday with soliciting a hitman to murder the attorney who represented a business partner in a contentious fraud and malpractice lawsuit over the ownership of a golf course.

    July 14, 2014

  • rock.jpg Struck by rock thrown from overpass, Ohio mom fights for life

    A 52-year-old Uniontown, Ohio, mother of four fought for her life in a hospital here Monday as a result of a rock thrown from a highway overpass that shattered the windshield of the family car during a trip to New York City.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Elderly woman accused of killing 89-year-old husband

    An 83-year-old woman, described as "a loose cannon" by her landlord, has been arrested in this Buffalo suburb for beating her 89-year-old husband to death.

    July 8, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Taxi owners, government patrons try forcing Uber to go 'off-duty'

    Uber gives urban passengers an enticing alternative. Rides on-demand arrive faster than taxis, are cheaper and cleaner, and get rated by customers. Rather than hail innovation, government enablers are helping the heavily regulated taxicab industry freeze out the upstart.

    June 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 4.29.43 PM.png Amazon enters smartphone wars with Fire Phone

    Amazon.com stepped into the smartphone ring Tuesday with the Fire Phone. Playing up Amazon's devotion to the individual customer and the media ecosystem it has built with its Prime subscription service, chief executive Jeff Bezos said that Amazon's growing universe of services set the phone apart.

    June 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nelly-elephant.jpg Bet the farm: 5 'psychic' animals predict soccer victories

    Need some guidance on whom to place your bets for this year's World Cup? Since Paul the Octopus achieved a prediction success rate of 85 percent in 2010, hosts of animal oracles around the world have sought attention as soccer sages. Here's a look at a few of them.

    June 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 1065.jpg The end of 'Redskins?' Social media reacts to trademark cancellation

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the trademarks of the Washington Redskins on the basis that it is "disparaging to Native Americans.” Reaction to the decision was, predictably, divided and intense. Here is a sampling from Twitter and YouTube.

    June 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Judge's wife admits she spiked his drink with antifreeze

    An Ohio grandmother has pleaded guilty to felonious assault of her  husband, a prominent local judge, by lacing his glass of wine with antifreeze before he turned in for the night.

    June 19, 2014

  • Even monarchs don't have job security anymore

    Like it or not, lifetime tenure is no longer standard practice, even for royalty. Juan Carlos, 76, is the third septuagenarian monarch in the last 18 months to abdicate, after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium. And that's not counting Pope Benedict XVI. With the media exposing their frailties and foibles, and with polls tracking their popularity, monarchs have become as accountable as any politician.

    June 2, 2014

  • Hospital charges to treat chest pain jump 10 percent in a year

    The charge to treat Medicare patients with chest pain at U.S. hospitals rose 10 percent to $18,568 in just a year, the biggest rise seen among the most common inpatient procedures, according to federal data.

    June 2, 2014