Every year, Concord Academy 10th and 11th graders are required to take the PSAT. This time-consuming, expensive test seems like it conflicts with CA’s values, yet, as it does every fall, CA administered the PSAT on the morning of Saturday, October 15.
Students gathered at CA at 7:45 a.m. The test concluded around 12:00 p.m. for standard time and around 1:30 p.m. for extended time accommodations. Each year, students are automatically signed up for the test, and their bookstore accounts are charged a fee of thirty dollars. Over two years, then, CA students each spend the equivalent of 12 Starbucks coffees or thirty train rides on the PSAT alone.
The PSAT, which is owned by the non-profit organization College Board, is actually called the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, and in the title are the exact purposes it tries—and fails—to serve. Eleventh graders can qualify as National Merit Scholars and win 2,500 dollars toward their college tuition. Although decades ago this sum may have been meaningful, the reality is that today it makes virtually no dent in the average 175,000 dollar cost to attend a four-year college or university in the United States, where the National Merit Scholarship qualifies. The other purpose of this test is to practice for the SAT. According to an email signed by Dean of Academic Program and Equity Rob Munro and Director of Studies Alyse Ruiz-Selsky and sent to students and parents in early September, “CA believes that it behooves students to take advantage of the PSAT as a low-stakes opportunity to practice for the standardized tests that will come later in their high school careers.” However, though the length of the test, the questions, and the testing environment are similar to that of the SAT, overall the PSAT is considered to be a slightly easier test. It might provide students with some level of preparation for the real thing, but it is not identical.
If CA’s goal is truly to prepare students for future standardized testing it could host an SAT practice test. College Board charges students to take the PSAT, and though some are eligible for fee waivers, for many it still costs money. Taking an SAT practice test on a site like Khan Academy, however, is free and arguably equally—if not more—effective in preparing students for the SAT.
If students are required to take the PSAT twice, at thirty dollars each time, and most take the SAT at least twice, at sixty dollars each, students are paying College Board a minimum of one hundred and eighty dollars on basic standardized testing alone. Although many CA students choose to take few or no Advanced Placement (AP) exams, each of these tests costs roughly one hundred dollars to take, and they too, are owned and administered by College Board. Although this company is a non-profit, all these fees still work in their favor. In 2020, when many SAT and AP exam dates were canceled, the company still made 1.7 billion dollars. That same year, David Coleman, the company’s CEO, made over one million dollars.
This is an issue because College Board also runs a program called Student Selection Service. This program, which students are prompted to sign up for on the form they fill out during the PSAT and SAT, involves College Board selling email lists to colleges looking to market their programs. Although signing up for this service is optional, the question appears in an otherwise required form with official time during the test reserved for filling it out, according to College Board’s standard test administration manuals. Basically, College Board attempts to coerce vulnerable, anxious, teenagers into their program. They then turn around and profit off of the students’ data.
Since College Board engages in data mining and the PSAT is an expensive, time-consuming, and irrelevant test, the question arises: why should CA, a school that views AP curriculums as confining of its teachers and course offerings, require students to take the PSAT not once, but twice?