Keeping Up on Standardized Testing Policies

By Lea on February 12, 2020 0 Comments

I keep tabs on changes in college admissions and opportunities in higher education so you don’t have to. Every day there is something new to consider.

That’s why I’m thankful to be part of an amazing network of college counseling and admissions professionals across the country, and around the world, who support each other in providing students and families with good advice and accurate information.

I’ve been following the debate about the value of standardized testing in college admissions closely and how colleges are responding. Research studies have found that standardized testing requirements create barriers of access and equity for many students seeking higher education. Outcomes on the ACT and SAT can determine admissibility and yet are also correlated to family income. The reality is that not all students are able to participate in and pay for private test preparation. On the other hand, college admissions officials indicate that “grade inflation” makes it difficult to rely on GPA alone to differentiate the applicants. They argue that standardized test scores provide an additional data point they can use to compare student achievement at a time when the number of applicants with high GPAs is growing each year.   

This on-going debate has led to a new trend in college admissions in the United States that is benefitting students: more and more colleges have determined that standardized test scores are not a strong enough predictor of success in college for them to be used universally in admissions decisions. A number of schools are now “test-optional” or “test-flexible.”

What do these new terms mean?

Test Optional: Colleges leave the decision up to you whether you want to submit standardized tests scores as part of your application or not.

Test Flexible: You can choose which standardized test scores to submit as part of your college-specific application. These may include AP and/or IB tests or other measurements of achievement, such as essays, portfolios, or special projects.

One organization doing a great job of promoting, tracking and publicizing the changing testing policies is FairTest, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. They post up-to-date lists of schools with test optional policies.

About SAT Subject Tests

As SAT and ACT testing requirements are becoming more flexible at some schools, other colleges have dropped the SAT Subject Tests completely or only require or recommend SAT Subject tests for certain programs (usually for students applying to majors in the STEM field). For example, as a general rule, the University of California does not require SAT Subject Tests. However, there are specific UC programs that recommend SAT Subject Tests be submitted. Carnegie Mellon, for example, also “recommends” SAT Subject tests for some programs, while MIT is holding out as one of the only schools to still require specific SAT Subject Tests.

Recently, there’s been good news out of Southern California from two schools popular with students pursuing engineering and studies in the STEM-fields. Both Harvey Mudd and CalTech announced that they “no longer require” any SAT Subject tests.

How you choose to navigate testing requirements will depend a lot on your interests and goals. As you can see, terminology and policies vary from school to school so we look very closely at the requirements for each school you apply to and strategize how to respond to the flexibility and differences. Be sure to always check the individual admissions pages of the colleges you will apply to for the most up-to-date information on standardized testing policies.

The fact remains that most universities and four-year colleges in the United States still require the ACT or SAT for admission (and a growing number of international universities accept these tests as well). 

You won’t know how you’ll do until you take it. Best to develop a solid test prep plan and keep your options open!

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