Why are college test scores so important to the Academies?

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by USAFA Cand., Feb 13, 2017.

  1. USAFA Cand.

    USAFA Cand. New Member

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    Just wanted to get some opinions or thoughts about why service academies care so much about test scores? Almost every study on test scores finds that they are insignificant and have almost no potential in grading the intelligence of someone. As progressive as the academies are in education, I would think that they might not invest so much in them. A test can measure what the government would consider being a good officer; however, this doesn't mean that the individual will be a good or successful officer? Just wanted to learn a little more about what the academies may see in test scores?
     
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  2. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Super Moderator 5-Year Member

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    The ACT/SAT isn't to measure if you will be a good officer. It is a measurement if you can handle the course work at USAFA which is a part of the program at USAFA to develop as an officer over 4 years. They use other measurements for aptitude to develop into an officer; sports (especially team sports), evaluations, leadership in ECAs, ECA involvement (can you work as a good team mate), interviews, etc. The SAT/ACT is the one measurement they have that every candidate takes regardless of school (including home school), GPA, etc. It is only one measurement they consider. I think I saw someone post in the ROTC side today that had a low UW GPA in the 3.2 ish range. Their ACT was a 33. To know the whole story I would need to read teacher evals; did that student apply them self, did they have a rough freshman year, what is their school profile, where do they rank within their class, was it all APs? Its why the whole candidate score is so important, to paint an entire picture of the candidate.
     
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  3. USAFA Cand.

    USAFA Cand. New Member

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    @NavyHoops Thank you for the clarification as that does make sense.
     
  4. fencersmother

    fencersmother 10-Year Member Founding Member

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    It is a standardized tool admissions can use to judge how well you did compared to other students. If you have a 4.0 but your SAT is coming up as 1150 (M & CR), well, it looks like those A's were handed out as candy in your school. If you've got a 1600 and a 4.0, great, but if you lack a sport, or job, or club, or any of the other things they look at, well, um, not so great for your WCS.

    So, yes, there is some emphasis, but it is not the only criteria on which a candidate is judged or evaluated.
     
  5. rkv

    rkv Member

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    Given that you mention studies, you may find the relatively recent Rand Study "United States Service Academy Admissions - Selecting for Success at the Air Force Academy and as an Officer" which was discussed in another thread here to be of some interest.

    That study indicated that the USAFA criteria are perhaps better predictors than you may think of both academic performance (GPA) and overall performance (OPA) while at the USAFA. While it indicates that such pre-admission measures are not necessarily strong predictors of military performance (MPA), all three measures (GPA, MPA and OPA) while at the USAFA are in fact good predictors of promotions in ones career after the Academy.

    Note, they are not necessarily stating a causal relationship. My own take on this is that the personality traits which drive one to perform well on those measures while at the USAFA are the same traits which will help one to excel in their subsequent career.

    You may find a summary of the Rand study here and a pdf of the study here.
     
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  6. USMA 1994

    USMA 1994 Member

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    There is much more to academic achievement than intelligence. We have to use something in an attempt to standardized academic achievement. While it may not show pure intelligence, it does demonstrate the academic ability to preform. Test scores are not perfect, but they are the best method that is currently available. The academies also look at the overall class profile but there is no way that GPA across all schools nationally can have the same level of rigor and have the same grading standards. I experienced this 25 years ago when my class's valedictorian only got and 18 on her ACT and didn't make it through her first semester of college. I also witnessed it more recently at large Texas 6A schools. GPA matters in Texas more that most states, the top 10%, 7% to UT, auto-admit to state schools. The kids understand this and some manage the number by taking the easier classes while others work hard to prepare for college. The kid that has a 3.5 who has taken all AP courses is more prepared for the academic rigors of college while the kid who has a 4.0 in taking the easier classes has not learned the rigor.
     
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  7. Christcorp

    Christcorp 10-Year Member

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    One of the biggest reasons for using the ACT and the SAT, are because they are the "GREAT EQUALIZER". How many times will you hear on this forum, an applicant claiming/bragging/etc. that they are in a "COMPETITIVE SCHOOL". Well that's all fine and all, but it doesn't say much. This is why the academy requests a "SCHOOL PROFILE". They want to see what classes are available; what classes you are taking; and more importantly, what colleges the average kid in your high school is attending.

    Now, with some schools having the complete IB Program; and some schools have the complete AP course load; and some only having Honor's Classes; and some having ALL OF THE ABOVE; and MORE IMPORTANTLY, some having NONE OF THE ABOVE....... How do you compare the 4.0 student at one school; with the 4.0 student from another school. The academy, does all schools, have a very difficult time trying to compare apples with transmissions. But the ACT and SAT are the great equalizer. The kid at the private school in Washington State and the kid at the Public School in Denver and the kid at the charter school in Dallas and the home schooled kid in Miami are ALL TAKING THE EXACT SAME ACT and SAT TESTS. This is one of the main ways of comparing students with different schools and classes.

    You are correct, it isn't always the best indicator of a student's ability to learn or succeed academically. However, it is a good indicator. As mentioned, what does it say when a kid has a 3.0 gpa, yet, they have a 33 ACT or 2100 SAT? Or the kid with a 16 ACT and a 4.0 gpa? Now, considering there are so many applicants to the academies, it's convenient when you can see a 3.9-4.0gpa AND a 33+ACT. That tells you that this applicant probably has no issues academically. But this isn't enough for the academy. They don't want just the Brainiacs. There are a lot of 4.0 gpa and 36ACT applicants who have been turned down from the academy. Just like there are plenty of applicants who played 3 sports each year, were captain of the team, had a lot of leadership experience and community service; who had a 2.5gpa and they too were turned down for an appointment. The academy wants BOTH!!! They want the applicant who will succeed academically as well as socially. Which includes leadership, teamwork, community service, sports, etc.

    The ACT and SAT are needed. They are the only way to take those applicants from private schools, public schools, charter schools, home schools, etc. and compare them on the same level. The ACT and SAT are the only thing academically that they ALL have in common. They all took the exact same tests. But that's why the academy weights the applications. They know the difference betweena 4.0 in the mandatory state required math class; and the 4.0 gpa in the IB Program Math class. That's why it's so important that you show that you did the BEST YOU COULD, with what was AVAILABLE to you. You won't be marked down for not being in the IB program or taking AP classes if they weren't available. But you WILL be marked down if they were available and you didn't take them.
     
  8. DrMom

    DrMom 5-Year Member

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    Good Morning All--as a professor in a DoD funded educational institution, let me add one thing about SAT and ACT and other standardized test scores...they are not the be all end all and particularly are a reflection of parental socio-economic status, which is why many schools are moving away from requiring the standardized test scores to a more whole candidate approach. It is important to note that while all service related commissioning programs require a standardized test score (and if you think about it so is the ASVAB...which measure the type of occupation an individual can perform when he or she enlists)...however, there are many pathways to a commission with different test score standards. Further, there are ample opportunities for strong candidates with low test scores to still have access to the service academies--through the Prep School or through the foundation scholarships or pathways for enlisted to the service academies; hence, if you look at the range of test scores in any given class (particularly on the USAFA class profile, which excludes prep school and foundation scholarship test scores) you will see that range. This enables individuals not from an upper middle class background to bring their knowledge, experience, potential for leadership, and diversity to the academy and to the Air Force. So, test scores are important--but they are not the be all/end all.
     
  9. Starchaser21

    Starchaser21 Member

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    I find it interesting that standardized test scores are such a controversial topic as they pertain to the academies. In my humble opinion, the function of an SAT/ACT score in an academy application is not so much to show pure academic intelligence as it is two show your performance in two CRUCIAL skills:

    1. Critical thinking – Ever wondered why SAT/ACT questions have such obscure wording? Those questions aren’t there to test if you know how to plug "x" into "formula abc" and come up with the right answer. Sure, you need some "book knowledge", but the SAT and ACT also show your ability to examine a problem carefully and apply the knowledge you have to a scenario you’ve never seen before.

    The military academies want individuals who know how to reason their way through problems using the facts they have. The SAT and ACT are one great way to compare a student’s critical thinking skills with those of their peers.

    2. Time management – In the SAT and ACT, you are presented with a set number of problems to complete in a given amount of time. Usually, you have to finish each problem in somewhere between 40 seconds and 2 minutes to complete the section in time. Especially on the math/science sections, this can be a big challenge. The relatively short time frame you are given is NOT an accident. It tests your ability to a) quickly recall and apply the necessary information, b) keep track of the time and work at an appropriate pace, c) prioritize by skipping over questions that you know you can’t solve quickly, and last but not least d) remain calm and focused under pressure.

    The ability to prioritize and manage your time to get everything done is debatably the most important skill you can have coming into a military academy. I can only speak second-hand, as I’m not a cadet, but I think most cadets and alumni would agree that time management is far more important than most "book-knowledge". Even the smartest cadet will fail if he/she cannot figure out how to manage their time and responsibilities.

    In conclusion, the standardized tests are important because they test some extremely important life skills that are essential to success in a military academy and career. Yes, I’m sure that there are some people out there who are very smart/good at critical thinking/excellent at time management, who for whatever reason just don’t do well on tests. However, as a general rule, the SAT and ACT are the best benchmark the academies have for comparing students’ ability to think critically and manage time, and that probably won’t be changing anytime soon.
     
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  10. AimHighReachForTheStars!

    AimHighReachForTheStars! Member

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    Standardized tests basically serve as "general" assessments to measure a student's knowledge of what they learned from HS. Many years ago I went to HS in Asia and we also took a college entrance exam and colleges would establish a cut off score if you were going for a certain major. The Academies use these scores and compare it with the student's GPA and class rank to get a better overall assessment of an applicant's academic ability and/or potential...results such as high GPA, high SAT; average GPA, high SAT; low GPA, low SAT, etc., could paint a picture.
     
  11. MidwestDad

    MidwestDad Member

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    My DS' HS does NOT report class rank to the point where they won't even divulge this in confidence. IMHO its PC run amok and a handicap to SA applicants.

    In this case standardized test scores can be used to normalize GPAs and 'guestimate' class rank quintile based on school history.
     
  12. Badfinger

    Badfinger Member

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    To me, a good test score and a good GPA, along with a high class rank, shows a sustained period (usually four year...coincidence?) of applying oneself.
     
  13. Christcorp

    Christcorp 10-Year Member

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    Some schools don't rank kids.
    Some schools rank but don't weight. Thus; the 4.0gpa kid taking the state minimum required classes and the 4.0gpa kid in the IB program are both ranked #1
    Some schools rank and weight or have their own criteria in determining who truly is the #1.

    In your comment; that your school does not REPORT class rank to the point where they won't divulge this in confidence;..... That IMPLIES that they DO RANKS the kids. Just that they won't tell YOU. There is no reason in the world to RANK THE CLASS, unless they are going to tell SOMEONE. The school sends the academy the school profile; classes available; your son's senior class schedule; son's official transcript; and if they DO RANK, then they are going to tell the academy. They might not tell you, but there is no logical reason in the world to RANK a class, if they aren't going to tell SOMEONE. They sure don't need the info for their own records. SO EITHER!!!!

    1. They DO RANK the students, and tell the colleges; including the academies; and simply don't tell students and parents.........
    or
    2. They DON'T RANK at all. Which is not as uncommon as it may sound. And you simply misunderstood when they said they wouldn't tell you. Even in confidence.

    But there's no way I could be convinced that they'd go through the process of ranking students; and then not using that information some place. They have no need for their own use. The kid's grades are in the computer. In less than a minute you can calculate average grades, gpa, etc. Names aren't important for school stats. So I stick with either #1 or #2 I wrote immediately prior.
     
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  14. MidwestDad

    MidwestDad Member

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    No - they do NOT rank. They transitioned from 'rank and report' to 'rank but don't report' to 'don't rank at all.' 4 years ago you could ask for rank to be sent in confidence but they succumbed to the PC / snowflake pressure and don't rank any more. [My sons are 4 years apart - was there since 2009.]

    I think they may re-rank last year's class over the summer so colleges have a reference point of class rank vs GPA vs SAT scores etc but individual ranks are not reported.
     
  15. Christcorp

    Christcorp 10-Year Member

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    This is not uncommon. There are a lot of high schools that don't rank. Part of the PC "Everybody gets a Trophy for Participation".

    I don't think it's a major disadvantage to applying to the academies. This is why they use your Class Schedule; what classes are offered vs what you took; your GPA; and your ACT/SAT scores. So they can compare an applicant from my type of school to another.

    Where it's a disadvantage to students, is "In the REAL WORLD". In the real world, it is COMPETITION. Companies hire the best people they can; for the money they have to spend; who will make the company the most money. Contrary to PC thought; except for some small mom/pop type private companies; large corporations aren't prejudice and don't discriminate based on race, color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. They are prejudice only against one color..... "GREEN". They want the best person for best profit for the least cost. This is a disadvantage to today's kids, because they think it's "NOT FAIR". They are told competition is bad. That is a tragedy. Kids need to be taught that they aren't ENTITLED to anything. Not in the world of employment, education, and economics. They need to be taught to work for what they want. Tired of schools and other parts of society pushing their "Feel Good" attitudes and not wanting hurt someone's feelings. That's why people 80-90 years ago who were on any type of "PUBLIC ASSISTANCE" did everything they could to get off of it. Today's people on Public Assistance, (Many, not all), try to find ways to get more.

    If you went back 20+ years of my emails, blogs, forums, and personal conversations; you'll find that I've always believed that Political Correctness would be, and has been, the downfall of our society. And I still believe that. There is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with ranking kids in high school. Of course, I'd rather see a school like yours where they DON'T RANK at all; vs the school that ranks ALL the 4.0 students as #1 and/or valedictorian. Even though some took IB programs and all AP Classes; while some took the minimum state required classes.
     
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  16. Idzak

    Idzak 5-Year Member

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    I'm on the library's wait list for the "Undoing Project" by Michael Lewis about two psychologists, Tversky and Kahneman. Kahneman, who won the Nobel prize, tells about his great faith in the leadership test for IDF officers. The test was to task a group of 8 men, unmarked with any rank, the problem of getting themselves and a long log over a 6 ft wall without touching the wall. Observation of the test performance would point out the leaders. Kahneman was convinced the test worked; however, the feedback from the officer training school indicated that the test was only slightly better than a blind guess.

    Apparently the IDF continued to use the test in spite of its poor predictive quality. But Kahneman learned, changed his mind and used the experience to coin the term, “illusion of validity”. So maybe the question might be “what’s the feedback on all the various tests?”
     
  17. MN-Dad-2016

    MN-Dad-2016 5-Year Member

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    Right or wrong, about 40% of high schools have eliminated class ranking "to minimize cutthroat competition among students." Their concept is to encourage students to take challenging courses without worrying about their grades. But many high schools give more weight on a ranking based off of perceived difficulty versus GPA alone. So IMHO, they fixed that part of their concern by rewarding competitive people for taking a more rigorous path.

    This is filtering into colleges too. Some medical schools for instance only offer a "pass-fail" approach. Their reasoning is so that students help one another versus fight tooth and nail for their class rank. Also, most of the best learning is accomplished not by memorize the material, but rather spending less time studying and more time going to seminars, research, clinical experience, etc. So just because you graduate #1 because you ground your nose in a book doesn't mean you are more valuable as a doctor (or whatever discipline). Hence, they refuse to release a rnk.

    So there is no reason to assume high schools (flawed??) reasoning has anything to do with being "PC".
     
  18. brovol

    brovol Member

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    Nicely stated.