You know.

Those three letters that begin with “S” and drive teenagers (and their parents) crazy.

OK, now last week you had me freaking out about Facebook, I don’t think I can handle this….

Yes, I’ m here to talk to you about the SAT.

The SAT used to stand for something.  Literally.  It was first an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test.   In 1990, it became the Scholarship Assessment Test.  By 1993, however, it stood for nothing.  It was just the SAT.  Like LOL or OMG.  Or OMD, if you can remember the 1980’s.

It’s funny  (Part One). In a lot of ways, the SAT has come full circle.  It was originally designed to eliminate test bias among different socio-economic classes and level the playing field, as best as possible, for admission to college.  It is now often accused of emphasizing the very same problems it was originally designed to address.

The first SATs were administered in 1926. In 1930, Math and Verbal sub-sections were introduced, and remained as the only two members of the band until 2005, when the Essay section was added.  In 1994, calculators were allowed an in 1995, the infamous “re-centering” of the SATs occurred.

Okay, but why is it determining my child’s future?  Is this just an evil conspiracy by the folks who make #2 pencils?

Well, no.  (It’s funny, Part Two). It’s funny, but the SAT is generally, for almost all colleges, a lot less important than it is for the parents who are freaking out about how important it is.

Now,let me be clear – it IS an important piece of the overall admission puzzle.  But it is one piece, in conjunction with grades, curriculum, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation, personal essay(s) and an interview.

As I said to literally thousands of applicants to the schools I served – we are going to look at 3 (or 3 1/2) years of work vs. one or two Saturday mornings. Admissions officers are looking for the SATs in context with all of the other information provided.  And hundreds of schools (thousands, if you include community colleges) do NOT require SAT scores to be submitted – schools as diverse as Wake Forest and Wagner, Bowdoin and Belmont Abbey, Drew and Rollins.  In fact, here’s a list of such schools.

Cut to the chase – will a bad SAT score kick him out of the school of his choice?

It might.  But “bad’ is subjective and varies from school to school (and Mom to Mom).  A “bad” score that – more or less – confirms bad grades and a weak curriculum will certainly hurt an applicant.  But a “bad” score that contradicts strong grades and a strong curriculum will cause an admission officer to generally dig deeper.

Okay, okay, but Brad is taking his first SAT next month.  And I – I mean he – is nervous.  What should we do?

Well, that could involve a whole separate blog post.  But here are the cliff notes:

  • Prepare.  Take a few sample tests to familiarize yourself with the SAT style and format.
  • Possibly use a test preparation service.  I’m of a mixed mind on this topic, but I would say – generally – if the issue is nerves, don’t use a test prep service.  But if the concern is how to take a test that is several hours in duration with multiple subjects, use a reputable firm or individual that you trust.
  • Take Latin.  Probably not a valid short-term option, but understanding the roots, prefixes and suffixes of words is a very valuable SAT skill.
  • A Good Night’s Sleep and a Good Breakfast.
  • Relax.  (Yes, I know it’s easy for me to say).

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.