The importance of college entry exams such as the Scholastic Assessment Test and American College Testing (more commonly known as the SAT and ACT) have been declining in recent years. It’s decline has only been compounded by COVID-19. Colleges such as DePaul University, University of Southern California, and even Harvard College have gone test-optional due to the pandemic, according to College Advisor. Some schools such as Colorado College and Indiana University were test-optional even before the pandemic.
As more and more colleges become test-optional, many wonder whether it is truly optional. Will students with test scores still be preferred over students that don’t submit a test score? However, based on interviews and reporting with people in the college admission industry, USA Today says that test optional truly means optional. Despite the effect of the pandemic, admission tests were already on the decline prior to 2020, for a variety of reasons.
One primary reason for its decline is that many believe the test is unfair, especially towards disadvantaged students. According to the Brookings Institute, Black and Hispanic students typically have lower SAT math scores. Those students are also more unlikely to attend college than white or Asian students. Brookings also believes that SAT scoring can discourage students from working to achieve their goals, saying, “High-potential students may lose confidence and motivation, which could result in them pursuing different fields.”
However, getting rid of these tests altogether could result in colleges overemphasizing other factors. This could favor students from wealthier families who have a more stable background with tutoring and fully college-educated parents. Some allege that high school grades might be a more reasonable approach, but the same risks apply. This is because lower-income students have obstacles that get in the way of them doing well in school, according to the Brookings Institute. Teachers College Press also mentions that college entry exams are now so influenced by money, parents’ education, and race. Students with high incomes can also have easier access to more time during their tests or a private test-taking area. Those are supposed to be used for students with ADHD or anxiety, states CNBC.
Students with mental illnesses such as emotional and behavioral disorders also are more likely to receive low test scores and lower chances of being admitted into a college. Some SAT scores are also artificially inflated due to social privilege. Wealthy parents have money for multiple retakes and for tutors who specialize in tutoring students for the SAT, says Diverse Education, a group that works for equity in education. Diverse Education thinks GPA might be the way to go when it comes to college admission. Studies have shown that students with high GPAs in high school and low SAT/ACT scores tend to have high GPAs in college, and students with low GPAs and high SAT/ACT scores usually have a low GPA in college. Studies have also found that students who do submit scores and those who don’t submit scores have no difference in academic performance, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Jeffersonville High School graduate Alexa Roach says, “I think they are a little ridiculous, honestly. I don’t think a huge exam should be the deciding factor of whether someone has the brains or the motivation for college. Some people have test anxiety or other factors that prohibit them from performing well on something like that, and I don’t think they shouldn’t be given a chance just because of it. I can see the appeal of an entry exam for scholarship purposes or recruitment, but overall I think it is time to do away with them and come up with a new way of deciding whether students are fit for a college or not.”