Standardized tests are divisive enough in this country. Link them to employment and you've got a powder keg.

The WSJ recently reported that high-rolling consulting firms and banks like Goldman Sachs routinely ask applicants -- of all ages and experience levels -- to fork over their SAT scores during the hiring process.

It should come as no surprise that the College Board, which publishes the SAT, says the test isn't designed to determine any kind of long-term career success. In fact, it should only be used to predict the outcome of your first year in college.

I've found that these acronyms have a peculiar effect on people. Simply mention the SAT or ACT in mixed company and out come the excuses: the test was harder back then, you know. We didn't prep for it like they do now. I was sick the day my teacher taught division of fractions. I had a massive stomachache/headache/toothache. The girl in front of me wouldn't stop tapping her pencil. The clock was too loud. I was 17 and didn't care.

Myself? Having grown up in the Midwest, I took the ACT – twice. (I retook it just to gain that one extra point I needed for a scholarship). I remember that I was forced to schedule the re-take on the same morning and in the same city my cousin was getting married. I kept glancing at the clock and wondering whether they'd exchanged vows yet.

Anyway, I got my extra point, and my scholarship. I would feel no shame reporting my decade-old score, should a hiring manager ask. However, I would question their judgment.

The WSJ article generated seven pages worth of comments, and after a quick scroll through, I could tell many of them agreed with me:

  • This nonsense would imply all knowledge accumulation stopped at your junior year in high school."
  • This boggles my mind. Especially since there is no proof of any correlation between SAT scores and job success. Seems lazy to me --- that you aren't willing to do the real work that making a good hire requires.”
  • Emotional intelligence is a far better predictor. I have worked with engineers who were far smarter than I was and graduated from better colleges, but they couldn't get a project going and completed on schedule and on budget.”

As you can see, some are wary of putting faith in the test itself, and some are blaming recruiters for not being resourceful enough. Another subset of commenters admitted that, all other factors being equal, they could see using it as a tiebreaker between two candidates. They defended it as one of the only objective indicators that remains nowadays, citing grade inflation as the main problem:

  • “[HR] might actually need something, anything, to help distinguish one all A's student from another all A's student. At least if it's an initial or early career hire.”

On the opposite side of the fence, there were those who backed the practice outright, putting trust in the SAT's ability to distinguish “intellect:”

  • “Size counts for the NBA and NFL. Beauty counts for Hollywood and the fashion business. Why do we decry the reality that intellect may actually mean something in large parts of the working world and that the SAT is a fine marker for it?”

Well, one reason it may be "decried" is for illegality. Though there is no legal language specifically referencing SAT or ACT scores, they look for all the world like stand-ins for IQ tests, which are illegal to administer in the hiring selection process due to what's known as the “disparate impact” clause. Tests used in hiring can exclude minority candidates if the tests are not "job-related and consistent with business necessity." Furthermore, if there is a less discriminatory test that can be used, the employer should use it.

And there is a racial disparity shown in the results of the SAT -- a difference of about 100 points between white and black test-takers.

"I would never advise an employer to use a test that has already been shown to create a disparate impact based on race," wrote one blogger on the Texas Employment Law Blog.

Is SAT the new IQ test? If so, is it right or wrong to use as a benchmark for hiring?

Tags: WSJ, Industry, SAT, Goldman Sachs, Disparate impact, College Board, ACT, IQ, Texas Employment Law Blog