Many colleges such as George Washington University and Temple University have recently made the decision to go test-optional. This policy allows students to skip having to take the SAT or ACT in order to apply to college.
Hampshire College went one step further and stopped accepting standardized test scores altogether. Jonathan Lash, President of Hampshire College, recently wrote an editorial in the Washington Post about how the decision to throw out SAT/ACT scores from the college admissions process has resulted in a more mission-driven incoming freshmen class.
However, less than 10% of colleges in the top 100 in the U.S. News National Universities Rankings are test-optional. And no university in the top 25 is test-optional. I predict that elite universities will always require standardized test scores for 3 primary reasons.
Competitive universities receive an enormous number of applications. For example, UCLA received 72,676 applications for students enrolling in the Fall of 2015 with an acceptance rate of 22%. Comparatively, Hampshire College received 2,856 applications for students enrolling in the Fall of 2015 with an acceptance rate of 64%.
It’s easy for less selective colleges that receive relatively few applications to stop accepting test scores. But SAT/ACT scores are much more important to the admissions process at elite universities. Standardized test scores allow college admissions officers to quickly compare applicants from across the country.
Imagine the fury that would ensue if a competitive university stopped accepting SAT/ACT scores. Parents and students are already unhappy with how “random” college acceptances can sometimes be. If standardized test scores were no longer required by elite institutions, the randomness would be taken to all new heights.
(2) GPA Variability
GPA has been shown to be a better predictor of academic success in college than standardized test scores. However, there is an incredible amount of variability in GPA from high school to high school.
Every high school has its own GPA scale. A 3.5 GPA at one high school may be equivalent to a 5.5 GPA at another high school.
The difficulty level of courses also varies widely. For example, AP biology at my high school was a joke and achieving an A in the course was a walk in the park. Should my A in AP Biology be worth more than a B in AP Biology from a student who attended a different high school?
College admissions committees do attempt to factor in the difficulty of a high school to account for discrepancies in grade point averages. But should students who get straight A’s at less competitive high schools be penalized simply because they attended less competitive high schools?
(3) Test Preparation Teaches Discipline
I don’t think that SAT/ACT scores are accurate measures of what students learn in high school. Instead, I think that SAT/ACT scores are accurate measures of how well students can perform on the SAT/ACT — that’s it.
I believe that with preparation, any student can significantly raise their SAT/ACT score. A self-motivated student who spends dozens of hours studying at the library can do just as well as a student in a test prep course.
While critics may argue that students shouldn’t spend so much time preparing for a test, I believe this discipline to work towards a goal has profound utility. Colleges should want students who are determined to work hard to achieve their goals, such as achieving a high SAT or ACT score.
Standardized test scores will always be valuable to competitive colleges. For students who aspire to go to elite universities, the discussion of test-optional colleges is irrelevant.