Tens of thousands of high school students across the country are preparing for next Saturday's Scholastic Aptitude Test, the outcome of which largely determines who will succeed in the highly competitive college and university admissions process.
But at a growing number of the country's best liberal arts colleges -- one fourth of the top 100, as measured by U.S. News and World Report -- the SAT has outlived its usefulness. It is no longer required for admission.
Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, was one of the first to drop the requirement 22 years ago.
"The SAT itself was not a fair indication of ability in all cases," said Elaine Tuttle Hansen, president of Bates.
"The SAT wasn't telling us about students who performed well on a variety of other measures," she added. "We wanted to look at all the information that comes in an admissions folder and really pick out the students who could make the most of this opportunity."
Bowdoin and Bates were the first to drop SATs -- and the ACT, largely popular in the Midwest -- as admissions requirements. Providence and Knox College are the latest. They join a group of schools including Mount Holyoke, Middlebury and Hamilton. Membership is growing, in part because of a 20-year-long study by Bates.
Over two decades, Bates tracked the classroom performance of those who submitted SAT scores and those who did not. The study concluded that the submission of SAT scores did not predict success and the absence of scores did not predict failure.
The four-year grade point average of those who submitted SATs was only .05 of a point less than those who did not. Graduation rates at Bates were only .10 less. The study also concluded that SAT submitters did seem to score better on standardized tests.
To require the SAT "doesn't make any sense," said Bill Hiss, who was dean of admissions at Bates when it dropped the requirement, and who now is the college's vice president for external affairs.
"We're artificially truncating the pool of people who would be successful," Hiss said.
"The SAT doesn't tell us about imagination," Hiss added. "It doesn't tell us about self discipline. It very often masks the background of kids coming from different cultures."
Lien Le, a Vietnamese immigrant, scored just 400 -- putting her just in the 15th percentile -- on the critical verbal component of her SAT, a score that normally would have denied her admission to a top college. Thinking back to the night before her SATs, Le remembered her newly arrived family scrambling to find number two pencils so she could take the exam.
Today, 28-year old Le is a doctor, finishing her residency at the Boston University Medical Center. She was accepted at Bates and graduated magna cum laude, majoring in biology.
"I wonder if I would be here right now" if the SAT score had foiled her admission, Le said.
Sitting in a conference room near where she works in oncology and hematology, she added, "Being accepted to a really good college had tremendous consequences."
High school counselors and college administrators have long complained the SAT is culturally and economically biased, which led to a revamped, longer test. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has faced a drop in scores and problems with scoring. Still, the College Board said disenchantment with the test is not justified.