United States universities’ move away from both the American College Test (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is sure to save students and parents a nice penny. What was once one of the most significant deciding factors in admissions has become mostly null and void in the post-pandemic times. While some people think this move is necessary to promote inclusivity among different socioeconomic classes, activities such as service, athletics, and other passions, others hold the opinion that it is a detrimental move on college admissions as a whole.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to this step away from standardized tests. On one hand, it is clear there are rising levels of anxiety across both high schoolers and people as a whole. Along with this notion, testing anxiety is at an all-time high. A study by Hilary Phan indicated that “[e]stimates are that between 40 and 60% of students have significant test anxiety that interferes with their performing up to their capability.” Not requiring scores for the ACT or SAT protects the students who do not test well. I cannot recall the number of times I heard someone in high school say, “I’m just such a bad test-taker… If [enter school] didn’t require such high scores, I’m sure I’d be a shoe-in…” My peers were unfortunate to graduate high school in 2020, prior to the ultimate axing behind the need for SATs and ACTs.
I almost did not believe it when my friends a year below me, who graduated in 2021, told me that most, if not all, of the universities they were applying to did not require the scores. I racked my brain, thinking about how I had taken the SAT four different times, all of which required a ~$60 price tag. I started thinking about the tutoring sessions I had for said test, and then for the non-local, ivy-esque tutors some of my peers had handed over half a mortgage for. I understood the little feasibility behind having a major test during a global crisis, but as of May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an end to the global Public Health Emergency for COVID-19. One of the biggest questions I have, for my sister in high school, and my other sister in middle school, is what is to come of these standardized tests? Will they make a major comeback like the new Transformers movie? Breathe air into a dying franchise and plunge it back into reverence?
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, circa 2021, Amber Dance brought light to the issue. Dance states,
“the nation’s most selective colleges and universities responded to the situation by dropping the standardized test score requirement for applicants. Liberal arts colleges, technical institutes, historically black institutions, Ivies — more than 600 schools switched to test-optional for the 2020-21 application season, and dozens refused to consider test scores at all.”
Many people were frustrated behind the removal of the tests as a requirement, as they believed it was created to promote an even playing field among students across the country. They were of the opinion that if for some reason, a university had to choose between Jane or John, and both students played a sport, had a 3.8 GPA, and were both the vice president for FFA, then the spot should go to the student who had a 1200 on the SAT versus an 1100. Another argument was centered around how, for example, chemistry teacher A at one high school taught the class like it was a college course and chemistry teacher B at the school hand-fed students the answers, then obviously the students in the second class would be more likely to get higher grades. How was it then fair to penalize student A for earning an 85 in the much more difficult course, whereas student B earned a 96? How could these two students be measured more fairly? Many people thought the answer to this question was clear – a standardized test.
Following the 2022 decision by California State University trustees to officially drop the SAT and ACT tests in their admission procedure, ACT issued a statement:
“Abandoning the use of objective assessments like the ACT test introduces greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process, and this decision is likely to worsen entrenched inequities in California… Solving the prevailing, systemic education inequities that exist in this country requires attention and focus on root causes, rather than dismissing the tools that substantially improve our understanding of them.”
However, some people have taken this equalizer argument and flipped it on its head. Another quote by Dance reads,
“Many had been turned off [from standardized tests] by the way the tests perpetuate socioeconomic disparities, limiting their ability to recruit a diverse freshman class. Some groups of students, including those who are Black or Hispanic, non-native English speakers, or low-income, regularly score lower than others. And students with learning disabilities struggle to get the accommodations they need, such as extra time, to perform their best.”
With so much uncertainty still running rampant through society as a whole, the importance of SATs and ACTs may seem trivial. However, it raises the question about leveling the playing field. Can it be done? Is there any way to put high school students on truly equal ground for judging by admissions? The original mission of SATs and ACTs was to do such a thing, but with the pandemic came questions about its true fairness. Biases and subjective opinions exist within a person no matter how much training or pull they have away from it – college admission counselors are not free from this rule. To current and future high schoolers looking to pursue competitive universities after graduating, pad that resume and make sure to write a moving and impactful college essay. The essay, in particular, has been cited time and time again as a giant factor in acceptances. Furthermore, if high schools offer college-level classes, it is highly recommended by higher education admissions to take on these courses. These people love to see students diving into challenging curriculums.
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