Amidst the pandemic, many colleges decided to adopt a test-optional policy for the SAT and ACT, meaning that submitting your test scores with your application is not required. An all-time high number of colleges have decided to adopt the policy in an effort to give students more of a choice in how they showcase themselves on their applications.
In addition to all of these changes, the College Board announced at the beginning of 2022 that it will make the SAT shorter and will offer digital administration in response to the pandemic.
Many critics of the SAT and ACT, who believe the tests are biased against low-income students because of the cost of preparing for the tests, are pleased with the shift towards test-optional admissions. And many students across the country, overburdened with the pressure of doing well on standardized testing, also welcome the changes. Students are inevitably less stressed if they do not have to take the tests or can disregard the results if they don’t do well.
Especially now, after the height of the pandemic, removing as many stressors as possible for students is critical. Transitioning from online classes to in-person school was a big and incredibly stressful change for many, so having a test-optional choice is helpful to those who are overtaxed in their daily lives. With a test-optional model, students can focus on readjusting their academic lives as opposed to preparing for a test that could completely change their college choices. Whether the scores would change students’ applications for better or worse, what is important is that it is their right to choose what they want to submit.
Additionally, offering a test-optional policy allows students to further enjoy and strengthen their skills in after-school activities. Extracurriculars, like sports or clubs, can often require an enormous time commitment, which might not be possible to manage if students need to spend all of their time prepping for the SAT or ACT. Extracurriculars offer far better experiences and outcomes than studying for standardized testing does. Dedicating meaningful time to endeavors that interest students will have a greater positive impact on their life than taking the SAT or ACT.
College testing also does not truly measure intelligence or academic aptitude. The tests are designed primarily to measure ability for a certain type of learning; they don’t measure any other elements of a student’s capabilities that are important to their success in life, like emotional skills, common sense or street smarts. Without having to look at students’ test scores, colleges can then focus on activities that show who a student really is, such as clubs they belong to, answers they give during interviews and other school-related activities.
Standardized testing has been appropriately criticized by people across the country as implicitly biased against low-income students because they reflect wealth more than ability to perform. “There is a good deal of research that they are very, very biased,” director of college counseling Emily Livelli explained. “Theoretically, they are supposed to predict first year performance in college. What SAT and ACT scores typically predict is affluence, and so they continue to be biased in that way.”
Affluence can ultimately be a predictor of how well a student will do in college because of wealth inequality in the education system. So while the SAT and ACT aren’t the sole aspect of the application process that will disadvantage low-income students, requiring students to submit scores would further enforce the bias.
Students from high-income families can—and are more likely to—do better on standardized testing because they can afford to take expensive preparatory courses. These same upper-class students also are more likely to attend expensive, competitive high schools that provide them a better baseline for performing on standardized tests. Senior Emma Gillespe pointed out that only some “people have the resources to get an SAT tutor, to study for the SAT, to sign up for all these things,” and that “people who don’t have these resources are getting left behind in the scores.”
When interviewed by the Bit, senior Kira Grossfield made the point that test-optional schools give students a variety of ways to enter the college process. “For some people, submitting might be a good way of showing their strengths,” she said. “For other people, it might just not fill out their application in a way that’s indicative of their abilities as a student.”
Test-optional is the best approach to standardized testing in admissions. For students who think they will do well on standardized tests, the SAT and ACT offer a way to present one of their strengths on their application; others can show their strengths in different ways.
There isn’t a definitive indication of how long test-optional policies will be in place in colleges across the country. Several colleges, like Harvard, have extended their test-optional model for coming years, and others, like MIT, have decided to revoke the method altogether. Test-optional is definitely what is best for students’ mental health and college application processes. Test-optional schools allow students to have the choice of whether they want to concentrate their studies on standardized testing or on an activity that they believe better displays their potential as a student.