Changes in SATs, but Not in Admissions
This time of year, the Office of Admissions overflows with the applications of Oberlin hopefuls. As if the college application process was not stressful enough, current prospective students were forced to grapple with an added source of anguish: they are the first class to take the new SAT.
One example of changes to the test is the removal of the infamous analogy section. The most significant change, however, is the addition of a timed essay.
According to www.collegeboard.com, the website of the organization that creates and administers the test, “The essay will measure [students’] ability to develop a point of view on an issue presented in an excerpt, use reasoning and evidence based on reading, studies, experience and observations to support that point of view, [and] follow the conventions of standard written English.”
The website also cautions that “there are no shortcuts to success on the SAT essay.” Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Anne Trubeck disagrees, however.
“To prepare for the test,” said Trubek, who wrote an article on the new SATs published in the summer 2005 issue of Oberlin Alumni Magazine, “You have to memorize some highfalutin text.”
Trubek discovered that despite the claims made by the College Board to the contrary, longer essays almost always got better scores. She also argued that the essay portion of the test measures skill in a type of writing that has no bearing on reality, either in college or beyond.
“A timed essay is not something most Americans will ever have to do again,” she said.
As significant as these changes may be to the notorious standardized test, Senior Associate Director of Admissions Leslie Braat said that the Oberlin admissions policy is not going to change its use of SAT scores in assessing applicants.
“The new SAT isn’t weighted any differently,” she said.
In fact, Oberlin is following suit with many colleges around the country in considering this particular year as something of a “trial year” for SAT scores. The College has even decided not to incorporate the average score from the essay section in its statistics for this fall’s incoming class.
“[This is] for a lot of reasons,” said Braat.
For prospective students, however, the notion of the SAT is still anxiety-inducing. Jo Grubman, a high school senior from Northfield, Mass. for whom Oberlin is a top choice, complained that the test is not an accurate representation of her as an applicant.
“The SATs don’t really reflect a lot of what [a student does] in the classroom,” she said. “It doesn’t show any of [his or her] character.”
Of the new essay section, Grubman argued, “There’s a certain way [College Board] wants [students] to write it. [Anyone] can be a good writer and still receive a bad grade.”
Trubek agrees with this criticism.
“There is research to support that a single timed essay test does not accurately assess a student’s writing skill,” said Trubek. “It’s a diminished sense of what the purpose of writing is.”
Braat agreed, saying the other pieces of writing that an applicant submits with his or her application — namely the Common Application essay and the “Why Oberlin?” essay — give a much better picture of the applicant’s writing skills.
Many view the SAT as an obsolete relic, especially now that it includes a formulaic essay graded on principles some would call outdated. Some small, elite liberal arts colleges have come to adopt this view, but will the SAT ever be universally dismissed as a factor in college admissions?
Trubek, for one, is doubtful.
“It’s not going to be [entirely] phased out,” she said.
In the end, while it may be one benchmark colleges can use to get a sense of
the applicant, Bratt emphasized that “the transcript is four years; the
SAT is three hours.”