By Julian De Ocampo ’13
When 20 students were accused of cheating on the SAT last November in Great Neck North High School, Principal Bernard Kaplan issued a statement saying SAT cheating is “widespread across the country,” and that they “were the school that stood up to it.”
The scandal involved a Great Neck graduate, Samuel Eshaghof, who would take tests under the names of paying students using fake IDs.
While Kaplan may have simply been trying to save face, his theory brings forth questions over the pressures of standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. The ACT and the College Board’s SAT Reasoning Test has long been a high-stakes assessment for students looking to continue onto higher education institutions. Results from at least one of the tests are required by the vast majority of universities and colleges throughout the country.
But how important are test scores really?
Not as much as you might think, according to college counselor Ms. Katie Cardinali, who said, “It matters less than what parents think, but more than what admissions officers want us to think.”
In fact, she attributes the intense pressures of the tests mainly to hype.
“There’s a little misinformation about the application process as a whole,” Ms. Cardinali said. “A lot of times students and parents place too much weight on the SAT thinking that an incredible test score might somehow compensate for a mediocre GPA, a lack of rigor or an absence of extracurricular activities.”
Tres Mayfield ’12 agreed, saying, “We prepare a lot for them … but it’s not the only part of getting into a good school. They’re important, but sometimes we lose sight of what really matters.”
This pressure has led to a rise in competition to achieve the highest test score in any way possible. But, at least at Brophy, cheating hasn’t proven to be the way to get that score.
Both Ms. Cardinali and counselor Mr. Jose Mendoza ’88 stated that they have never heard of anybody at Brophy cheating on the tests.
“I think the College Board does a fine job in preventing anything like that,” Mr. Mendoza said. “With these testing conditions, I’d be shocked if that happened.”
Ms. Cardiniali also pointed out that the risk is definitely not worth it, saying that cheating on the SAT or ACT would lead to a loss of a diploma from Brophy.
There are better alternatives to cheating, both counselors said.
Ms. Cardinali suggested a number of techniques to help hone SAT scores without going overboard, including studying on a continual basis at the library, making full use of the resources Brophy provides, getting five night’s of sleep before the test and taking both the SAT and ACT.
Nick Centrella ’12 said that the hype behind the SAT isn’t too bad when one properly prepares for it.
“I think we have so much practice you kind of know what you’re getting into. I feel like Brophy prepares you for it well,” Centrella said.
Ms. Cardinali also suggested that students whose strength isn’t test-taking should look into testing-free colleges like Holy Cross College and Providence College.
“Many schools are recognizing that a standardized test is not necessarily indicative of a student’s potential,” Ms. Cardinali said. “If you’ve got a great SAT, but you’ve really been so-so all along, you still might not get admitted.”
As for test prep classes, the counselors said that they are helpful, but only in certain circumstances In circumstances where classes would be costly, Ms. Cardinali suggested that students study independently.
“Stay calm. Maybe don’t rush into a ton of prep without actually taking the SAT or ACT once to get a base score,” she said.
But ultimately, the SAT is only a small piece of application process, she said.
“I would warn against spending so much time on test prep that it takes away from your academic studies,” she said. “Sometimes I see people taking a test prep class that meets so often that their grades suffer.”