There is rarely a more anxiety inducing event for a high school student than sitting down to take a college admission test. Scores on the SAT or ACT, the two nationally recognized college admission tests in the United States, are an important component of the admission application to colleges and universities and help the admission officers decide whether or not to accept the student into the incoming class. Most of the selective colleges and universities require high scores for acceptance, and many competitive scholarships use admission test scores as one of several selection criteria. For athletes, obtaining at least the minimum score established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is essential to be eligible to play inter-collegiate sports. To gain a sense of how important students and their families perceive these tests to be, consider the fact that an estimated 1.5 million students purchase test preparation and tutoring services for the SAT, collectively spending about $530 million annually (Marte, 2011).
This chapter presents an overview of the SAT and ACT. After describing the two exams, it provides a brief history of their development before explaining why college admission offices use testing to make admission decisions. It then summarizes the scholarly research on the predictive validity of the exams in predicting college outcomes. Evidence from interviews with college admission officers explains the extent to which admission test scores factor into the admission decision. Finally, the chapter offers some criticisms aimed at the SAT and ACT and presents alternatives to the exams.