Standardized testing: A resurrected requirement in US university admissions

Standardized test scores have always increased the chances of admission

By Peter Y. Davos

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Peter Y. Davos, Founder and CEO of Hale Education Group
Peter Y. Davos, Founder and CEO of Hale Education Group

Published: Tue 5 Mar 2024, 4:32 PM

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic transformed the landscape of US university admissions in unprecedented and completely unforeseen ways, but none more impactful than in the elimination of standardized testing requirements, such as the SAT and ACT. Long a staple of the American university admissions process, universities were compelled to eliminate the submission of these test scores, as most students around the world were simply unable to sit the examinations. Although widely excoriated, these exams provided transparency in the application process, as every year, universities would publish the 25th and 75th percentile scores of admitted students, as well as the mean scores. At the click of a mouse button, students were able to access scores and compare their own scores to benchmark their performance against the most recent and relevant data set available, and universities had a proven, powerful, and universal assessment tool to assess candidates’ academic preparedness to excel in college.

Long seen as a necessary evil by some, or a dreaded nightmare by many, students around the world celebrated the elimination of SAT/ACT testing requirements in 2020. As a result, applications to leading universities skyrocketed by as much as 50% and marginalized communities who traditionally underperformed on standardized tests lauded the decision. But as the aftershocks of COVID-19 have subsided, some universities have begun to rethink the role of the SAT/ACT in the process - and have reintroduced the requirement that they be submitted. MIT was the first to reinstate their requirement in 2022, with its Dean of Admissions Stu Schill stating that the university “needed the test to make sure students could do the work.” Georgia Tech, Georgetown, and the University of Florida followed suit. Only last month, Dartmouth and Yale, both Ivy League institutions, also announced that standardized test score submissions will be required of all applicants in the upcoming admissions cycle.

As Bob Dylan said, The Times They Are A’ Changin’. In many respects, yes, but in some ways, not as much as it may seem. With the exception of a handful of universities, such as the University of California (UCLA/UC Berkeley/etc) colleges, which are test-blind - which means that test scores cannot be submitted or considered under any circumstances, the vast majority of universities were test-optional, meaning that students could submit scores if they wished and they would be considered as part of their application. Students that did well in the exams benefitted from their submission, particularly to STEM fields. Out of the dozens of students who received admission offers to Ivy League and other top universities from Hale’s applicant pool last year, only a single one applied test-optional. Many universities went test-optional out of necessity - and are now slowly backtracking their decisions.

Standardized test scores have always increased the chances of admission for those students that have done well in them and submitted them to test-optional programs; they will only continue to matter more now that leading universities are simply requiring them, once again, as they view them as an accurate indicator of future academic success in university.

The writer is Founder and CEO of Hale Education Group

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