Is the College Board Going Down?

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I recently had a couple of parents ask me about the College Board, the company that owns and operates the SAT, SAT II Subject Tests, and even Advanced Placement tests. Specifically, these parents wanted to know if the College Board is “going down,” and if the SAT will no longer be necessary.

Now, while that may seem like an extreme question, those parents aren’t actually coming totally out of left field.

Concern first started when the College Board redesigned its famous college entrance exam, the SAT, in January of 2016. There weren’t many practice tests to use to prep (only four, though since then, the suite of official practice tests has only expanded to 8 real practice tests for student use). Because the test was so different and solid preparation was suddenly harder to come by, everyone started rushing to the ACT. In fact, many test prep professionals encouraged all their students to ONLY take the ACT that year, listing a host of “reasons”…at the root of which was that the test prep professionals themselves didn’t feel as comfortable with the new test (shhh).

The second concern has been that as the years have gone on, more and more schools are choosing to be “test optional” or “test flexible,” meaning that they’re choosing not to require the SAT or ACT, but might let you apply and be admitted with a portfolio of stellar essays, transcripts, activities, and examples of past school assignments. (That’s cool—if your transcripts, essays, activities, and sample assignments really are stellar. Otherwise? Yeah, you’re going to need standardized test scores.) Or they might instead give you the option of taking the SAT or the ACT or 3 different SAT 2 Subject Tests. (Awesome, but you’re still taking tests of SOME variety!)

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Then in June 2018, the SAT had the hardest curve in 14 years of the test on the math section, and it threw out 2 questions each in Reading and Writing, lowering the number of questions by which the verbal curve was divided…and a lot of scores, too. Despite public outcry, in the end, the College Board said they would NOT throw out this test.

Finally, the August SAT, which many rising seniors prepped for especially intensely because of the June problems, was mired in controversy: since the test had apparently been a previously-released international SAT (in China), some students had potentially seen it before, thereby giving them an unfair advantage. Again, the College Board refused to throw out this test. A class action lawsuit has been filed.

So, the questions I’ve been asked is: if the College Board “keeps making these mistakes,” won’t it go out of business, and won’t the SAT just be “done away” with?

And I’m here to tell you firmly: NO.

One simple reason is that the College Board is too big to fail. The organization has been around for 118 years, started the SAT in 1926 (92 years ago), and has grown symbiotically with the development of the contemporary college process in America and internationally. It’s also an educational Goliath, reaping over $840 million in yearly revenue. Its only real competition (as far as college admissions go) is the ACT. This company is not going to just “go away” because of a few mistakes. They have too much to lose, and they are too deeply embedded in American college admissions, which is a huge, loosely interconnected, dense system to which change comes very slowly.

Instead, like any huge empire, the College Board is adapting to the times and the circumstances.

Past test leaked in China over the internet? They’ll make sure to only reproduce sections of previous tests, not entire ones.

June test was “too easy”? They’ll tack on “experimental sections” to tests, thereby vetting questions and testing for true difficulty level before putting those questions on future tests.

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“There’s no true need for the SAT anymore”? Um…really? In order to truly succeed at the “test optional” thing, you have to have an AMAZING transcript and work product that FAR SURPASSES how well you did or didn’t do on the SAT. In other words, if you scored poorly on the SAT and also on your grades, going test optional isn’t giving you a leg up. If you’re a fantastic, thoughtful student who has severe issues with standardized testing…like, everything in your application is SUPERB and your test scores are the only thing keeping you down…THEN consider test optional schools. But most colleges still do require SOME metric to measure their applicants against, so while the tide seems to be changing, we haven’t wiped out just yet.

All of this is to say, while parents (and students) may be concerned about these recent bouts of turbulence with the College Board and the SAT, for better or for worse, they are very much still a part of the college process. There’s simply no realistic reason or pragmatic possibility that imminent change is at hand. It’s certainly wise to keep an eye on the changing winds of standardized testing and college admissions (a good expert tutor will do that for you, so let me know if you need help navigating this tricky process with a strategy that keeps you sane).

That said, the bottom line of my expert advice in this case: breathe, choose the test that best shows off your strengths, and prepare for it to the best of your ability. Because believe me, it’s still going to be there to take (and it’s still going to matter to colleges and for your application package) when the time comes.