Future of Standardized Testing: Will Colleges Stop Requiring the SAT & ACT?
The SAT and ACT have been integral components of the college admissions process for decades. Applicants have rightfully come to view these standardized tests as essential to their applications as their high school GPAs. In fact, most colleges require students to take at least one of the exams in order to even qualify for admissions.
Students with perfect or nearly perfect scores were automatically viewed as having a higher chance of getting into the school. Recently, however, some colleges have suspended the requirement with others doing away with it altogether leading many students to wonder “will colleges require standardized tests in the future?
What are the SAT & ACT?
Before we can talk about the future of standardized testing, it’s important to understand its history and importance. Although all high school students are familiar with the ACT and SAT, not many have a firm grasp on why these tests are used by so many colleges and how they developed in the first place.
The Scholastic Assessment Test, more commonly referred to as the SAT, is a standardized test developed and administered by the College Board – a not-for-profit organization with the stated goal of increasing the accessibility of higher education by connecting students to opportunities and college success. The purpose of the SAT is to determine an individual’s college readiness.
Although it wasn’t originally intended to reflect what students were learning in high school, recent adjustments have aligned the contents more with Common Core standards. The exam takes around three hours to complete and is scored between 400 and 1600. It’s broken down into two 800-point components: the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and the Mathematics portion.
The American College Testing – a nonprofit organization similar to the College Board – administers the ACT. Unlike the SAT that only covers two sections, the ACT has four different portions: scientific reasoning, reading, mathematics, and English.
Each section is scored on a range from 1 to 36 with an aggregate score known as the ACT Composite.
It was originally introduced as a competitor to the SAT, giving college applicants another standardized test from which to choose.
The purpose of the ACT is to assess a student’s educational capabilities in college-level material. Ever since being available, the ACT has gradually become more popular and even had more student participants than the SAT in 2012.
COVID-19s impact on the acceptance of standardized tests
The 2020 school year was severely disrupted due to the constraints and challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Schools became vacant, in-person classes were no longer, and online school became the norm for college students across the country.
However, there was a giant question mark surrounding the standardized testing that millions of college applicants were preparing to take in order to increase their chances of getting into their desired schools. Since the tests are typically administered in large rooms with students sitting relatively close together, it didn’t seem safe, practical, or fair given the circumstances.
There were reports of students traveling across state lines in order to take tests that weren’t being administered in their home state. Some students even several attempts to take the test without any luck due to postponements, cancellations, rescheduling, and other complications.
The testing sites that did operate administered temperature checks, required students to wear masks while socially distanced, and took other safety precautions, further complicating an already stressful and anxious situation for students. Given the obvious health risks involved, many colleges decided to temporarily waive the requirement for the ACT and SAT.
In fact, more than 1,450 colleges and universities moved to a test-optional policy in the fall of 2020. Test-option essentially meant that students could take the ACT and SAT if they wanted to, but that it wasn’t required for entry. Furthermore, many schools went further by guaranteeing that not taking a standardized test wouldn’t count against the applicants.
This was a welcomed decision among students and parents who were worried about their health and safety yet still wanted to increase their chance of getting into the school of their choice. While this historic move was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement towards optional testing isn’t new.
A push to get rid of standardized testing
For decades, there’s been a concerted effort to get rid of standardized testing. The SAT and ACT have been accepted by the vast majority of colleges in the United States. In fact, even the most prominent, prestigious, and highly sought-after universities such as the Ivy League schools have required applicants to submit at least one of the exams. These tests, as previously discussed, have been used as a way to accurately, objectively compare the academic performance of the thousands of students that seek admittance at these prestigious universities.
The recent decision of many colleges to move towards test-option policies or to throw out the requirement altogether is new but is a reflection of an older movement. The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique situation that presents some real struggles and obstacles for students across the country. However, it’s critical to understand the overall arguments being put forth by the individuals who are in favor of standardized testing as well as those who are against it. We’ll take a look at both sides in depth to provide a better understanding of why colleges have been requiring or at the very least accepting these exams for so long.
What do the proponents say?
The camp in favor of standardized testing has always maintained that it’s one of the most objective ways to determine qualified students from a wide pool of applicants, giving admissions officers an ability to accurately gauge an individual’s academic abilities without having to sift through significant amounts of data that would take too long and cost too much. Some of the reasons the ACT and SAT have such a strong tradition in the college admissions process of most colleges in the US include:
Standardized tests hold educators accountable.
Not every student has the ability to hand-select their high school. And since a student’s chances of getting into college are largely dependent upon their performance in high school, it’s important that instructors at all schools are held accountable in their teaching practices.
Although students are the ones being tested, standardized tests are a great way to determine how effective instructors are at preparing students for these tests. Since the performance of each school is public record, it ensures administration has the students’ best interests in mind.
These tests are analytical.
Another important reason standardized tests are required is because of the comparison required during the application process.
In order to accurately compare and contrast the academic performance of one applicant from California and another from New York, colleges need a single metric. It’s not enough to look at how each student performed in high school courses as these vary in difficulty and content between each school let alone each state.
The SAT and ACT are well-structured.
One of the hallmarks of an effective standardized test is structure. This makes it possible to measure the progress of students over a duration of time. Both the SAT and ACT come with a specified set of criteria which can guide what’s taught in the classroom and how instructors help students prepare for the exam.
Standardized tests are objective.
Objectivity is essential when comparing the academic performance of applicants. Although high school course grades and overall GPAs do offer a reflection of a student’s performance, it’s possible that some bias was involved in the way coursework and tests were graded. When it comes to standardized testing, everything is done objectively.
The exams are graded entirely by computers, removing the possibility of human bias. Furthermore, the tests are written by experts with each individual question undergoing a significant amount of scrutiny to ensure it’s valid, relevant, and fair.
The exams are the same for every student.
Colleges receive applications from all across the country and the world. It’s impossible to ensure that the academic standards of all high schools from which each applicant is originating are in alignment.
Although high school performance is a large consideration when determining whether or not a student gets accepted, standardized tests are a great way of making a unified standard. All students take the same exam and are, therefore, tested against the same criteria.
What does the other side say?
As we discussed earlier, the move to get rid of standardized tests or their requirements isn’t a new idea. Although the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying effects have reinvigorated the debate, people have objected to standardized testing for decades. Here are some of their main arguments:
Standardized testing isn’t flexible.
One of the main arguments against the ACT and SAT is that they’re not taking all factors into consideration. For example, some students might face additional barriers due to their test-taking anxiety or because they’re unfamiliar with the format. Language, mental health, physical capability, and family issues are all barriers that might impact a student’s ability to perform well on the test. Since these individual factors aren’t taken into consideration, some people argue that the tests shouldn’t be required.
The SAT and ACT skew what’s taught.
The advantage that standardized test proponents see in the accountability it has for teachers and schools is actually seen as a downside to detractors. Some people argue that the test skew what instructors might otherwise teach their class.
In a nutshell, they’re saying that the teachers end up only preparing students for taking the test instead of really focusing on the subject’s material. The obvious counterargument to this point is that the exams already cover important material.
The tests don’t really measure progress.
Some people argue that since an ACT or SAT test only needs to be taken one time that it’s not a real accurate test of progress. Some actually think that there should be more regular testing to get a better idea of how both instructors and students develop over time.
Of course, students are allowed to take the test more than once since there are no limitations. Furthermore, standardized testing even once a year will still show how a teacher is progressing over time. Thus, encouraging better instruction in high schools, something that all high schoolers benefit from.
It places too much stress on incoming college students and teachers.
A common argument in favor of getting rid of the requirement for standardized testing is the stress and anxiety it can cause. For instructors, bad performance of students can lead to a decrease in school funding and could even mean the end of the teacher’s job if the situation gets bad enough.
Even for the most well-meaning teachers, this can feel like a lot of pressure. However, it takes a considerable amount of negative performance in order for the average school to even consider taking action against teachers to the point of firing them.
For high school students, it’s argued that the requirement to take the exams by colleges creates an unnecessary amount of anxiety. Although some students struggle with stress more than others, it’s not uncommon for applicants to feel a bit anxious during the application process.
It’s become intertwined with politics.
Everyone wants to keep politics out of education. Not in terms of teaching about politics in an objective, academic, and purposeful manner, but in regards to its influence.
Some people against the requirement of standardized testing claim that it influences what some politicians decide as academic performance is sometimes used as a surrogate for the performance of people holding public office. In reality, the situation is a bit more complicated than that.
Verdict: Will colleges require standardized tests in the future?
Despite the changes brought about by COVID-19, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of colleges that decided to go test-optional were only doing so on a temporary basis. Some universities have already determined that they’ll begin requiring the SAT or ACT at later dates, while others have yet to make that decision.
Even with the arguments for ending standardized testing altogether, there aren’t many reasons to believe that colleges would do a complete 180 even following the obstacles created by the pandemic.
Standardized testing has remained a go-to standard for measuring a student’s college readiness and provides an objective measurement for comparing the eligibility of applicants at selective universities.
As a result, AdmissionSight still highly recommends that college applicants continue taking the SAT and ACT, especially those who are interested in attending prestigious universities such as those in the Ivy League. We simply don’t see this temporary shift in standardized testing materializing into any industry-wide changes of any permanence.
What about test-optional schools?
One of the most common questions students and parents have regarding standardized testing is about test-optional schools. Instead of saying that they don’t accept the SAT or ACT outright, some universities will tell applicants that it’s optional.
Of course, this leads many to wonder, “what does test-optional really mean?” On the one hand, it could mean that an exam won’t impact a student’s chances of getting accepted one way or the other. Conversely, it could mean that the tests aren’t a requirement for submitting an application but having them would be of benefit.
Most students would prefer if universities simply came out and stated categorically whether or not standardized tests were needed to get accepted. Unfortunately, not all are that clear. That’s why we advise all high school students to take the SAT and ACT.
Not only do these exams give you a helpful assessment of how you perform with college-level material, it also gives you an advantage at many schools. Despite the temporary changes that occurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significantly more universities and colleges that will require standardized tests than not in the future.
We’ll help you navigate the complexities of college admissions
To take standardized tests, or not to take standardized tests. That is the question. Or, more accurately, one of countless questions applicants and parents wonder about when preparing for college. It’s already stressful enough, why do colleges have to go about changing their requirements! But don’t worry.
You don’t have to undergo this daunting process alone. AdmissionSight is a prominent college entrance expert with over a decade of experience helping students just like you get into the universities of their dreams.
We have a proven track record of success with 75% of our students getting accepted into an Ivy League or Top 10 university. That’s right! We help students get into some of the best schools in the country!
Whether you need a hand preparing for your college admission interview, writing and editing your college essay, preparing for the SAT or ACT, choosing your high school courses, or anything else, we’ve got you covered.
All of our services are completely customized to meet the needs of each of our clients to ensure maximum effectiveness. Feel free to contact us to learn more about what we offer and how you can benefit from them.