By Jeff Lee
What ACT/SAT Scores Mean
Now, there is still the question of what these test scores actually represent. What are these tests designed to measure and predict? ACT and CollegeBoard claim that their tests predict a student’s potential for academic success, which is quantified through test scores and grades. ACT and SAT test scores have a positive correlation of around .50 in relation to first-year
college GPA. This indicates a moderate-strong and statistically significant relationship, and universities use test scores as one of several indicators of a student’s aptitude for handling college level coursework. Furthermore, the predictive validity increases when combining a student’s high school GPA and standardized test score and correlating them to first-year college
GPA as opposed to using test scores or high school GPA alone. Don’t worry if the research jargon sounds confusing; just know that there is evidence supporting the use of standardized test scores as objective and quantifiable predictors of college performance. Nonetheless, educators are aware of the limitations and ethical concerns regarding the reliance on standardized test scores. This is why some colleges do not require test scores as part of their application process. Sadly, the most competitive schools still do, and this will likely not change anytime soon.
Does this mean that a student with a lower test score will automatically earn lower grades in college? No, of course not. There are many students who are not the best test-takers who can still attain high grades and succeed in college. However, standardized test scores and GPA remain the primary quantitative indicators of how well students might perform in higher
education. A higher test score indicates a higher probability (though not a guarantee) of a student having a higher GPA during their freshman year in college. Furthermore, when colleges are looking for the best and brightest students, standardized test scores are helpful at separating the top 1% from the top 5%, and the top .01% from the top 1%.
Misinterpreting Test Scores
Test scores are frequently misinterpreted by parents, students, and even some educators. Someone might assume that receiving a 1200 on the SAT counts as a 75% and is therefore equivalent to a “C.” This is NOT how test scores should be interpreted, for percentiles and grade percentages are NOT the same thing. As discussed earlier, standardized test scores indicate a student’s relative performance when compared to all the other students who took the same test. Also, the assumption that every student should be able to earn a high score is erroneous. Although it is possible for a student to increase their score from the 50th percentile to the 99th percentile (such as going from 20 to 33 on the ACT or 1000 to 1500 on the SAT), this takes considerable time, energy, and effort and may not be feasible for most students. More than anything else, a high test score simply means that a student is a very good test-taker.
Never Giving Up
Toward the end of the summer last year, I began meeting with N.S. and J.L. again when they notified me that they wished to try the ACT one last time. I met with them and several other students weekly to help them prepare for the September and October ACT tests. Since they were now seniors, this would be their last chance to achieve the score they wanted. During our
meetings, we discussed various strategies and techniques to help them improve their English and reading performance. For every question they missed or passage that they performed poorly on, there was something they could learn, as painful as the experience might have been. They would regularly ask me about which practice tests they should take, and by the time they were finished with the ACT, I believe they must have taken nearly forty to fifty tests, some more than once.
In the fall of their senior year, N.S. managed to score 32 on the September test, whereas J.L. scored 30 on both the September and October test dates. To me personally, their scores mean far more than simply placing them near the 94th or 97th percentile. Spending two to three years trying to raise one’s test scores is grueling and painful. Succeeding in this respect requires considerable grit and self-discipline. To me, their scores represent their dedication and drive to improve. I was also touched by the camaraderie they displayed throughout this process. They would sometimes compete to see who could perform better, but they would always support and encourage one another. I remember the times when they felt disheartened and were on the verge of giving up, only to later see them pick themselves back up and push themselves even
harder than before. I had never lost my faith in their abilities to perform well, but I understood how the design of the test seemed to place a glass ceiling on how far they could go in increasing their scores. I witnessed firsthand their suffering and determination, and ultimately, their success. I recall the times when I had to console them when their practice test scores were lower than they expected, or when they worried that they would not gain acceptance into a good college due to their scores. Last I heard, J.L. managed to gain acceptance into U.C. Irvine’s honors program for computer science, and we’re still awaiting the news for N.S’s acceptance results. Regardless of which university they decide to attend, I am certain that they will find success thanks to their work ethic and positive attitudes. Students like N.S. and J.L. inspire me to continue teaching and doing whatever I can to help them overcome their academic struggles that come along during these tough high school years. Their story is a testament to the fact that in the end, hard work and effort are truly the essential ingredients to attain success.
“Using Your ACT Results”
“SAT Understanding Scores”
ACT and SAT score ranges for 360 colleges and universities: