Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker magazine describes the author’s experience taking the SATs as a adult and tells the story of a mother who decides to take them in order to help her son study. In so doing, it reveals that the test is not quite what it claims to be: a measure of the takers’ aptitude for achievement in college. As Kolbert writes:
Whatever is at the center of the SAT—call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition—the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended. It’s not just high-school seniors who are in its thrall; colleges are, too. How do you know how good a school is? Well, by the SAT scores of the students it accepts. (A couple of years ago, the dean of admissions at Claremont McKenna College was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had inflated students’ scores to boost the school’s ranking.) As befits an exam named for itself, the SAT measures those skills—and really only those skills—necessary for the SATs.