On an SAT answer bubble, a single vertical mark through a letter counts as a response. Why does that matter? Because drawing a short line requires two fewer seconds than shading a full bubble. Across dozens of questions, that’s precious minutes saved.
I absorbed this piece of testing arcana during years spent obsessing about the SAT. I didn’t just casually study for the nation’s college entrance exam—I became consumed by it, seeing it as my ticket to top schools and a vital totem of academic excellence.
Which is why I’ve been surprised at the growing number of colleges that—in the name of “fairness” or “equity”—have either abandoned standardized tests or dubbed them optional, including, in recent days, Columbia University. By reducing the emphasis placed on such tests, these institutions actually render the admissions process less fair and equitable—and devalue a key opportunity for students to demonstrate excellence and grit.
For me, the SAT was the rare component of collegiate admissions that I could meaningfully control—and a contrast to the other, concerningly fuzzy parts of that process. My parents were Indian immigrants who didn’t attend college in the United States. They didn’t know what an Eagle Scout was or why a university would care that you’d aided the destitute during your summers off. They couldn’t easily afford expensive sports programs or pricey musical instruments. At some level, they were perplexed that the admissions process was so dependent on hazy “extracurriculars” or a word cloud of “well-roundedness.”