Colleges should return to requiring SAT and ACT scores

For the past two graduating classes, almost all colleges had to go test-optional or test-blind. At the height of the pandemic, standardized tests were widely unavailable since cramming hundreds of students from all over together indoors for hours was a recipe for a COVID-19 outbreak. However, now that COVID-19 cases continue to dwindle and ACTs and SATs are happening all around the country again, colleges should return to requiring test scores as part of the college admissions process.

Standardized tests are often accused of being unfair and favoring wealthy students. It is true that tutoring for the tests has become increasingly expensive. Parents pay thousands of dollars for their children to prepare for the SAT or ACT, sometimes for years leading up to actual tests. Still, there are other, much less expensive ways to study. SAT or ACT test prep books with exam tips and full-length practice tests can be found online or at most local bookstores for around $20, and allow students to prepare on their own for the test. Additionally, there are many free practice tests and other resources online on websites, such as Khan Academy.

Furthermore, the SAT and ACT are designed to test a student’s logic and reasoning skills, not their preparation. Students’ performance on these exams can provide for colleges a reflection of their ability to problem solve and think critically, which GPA alone cannot portray. Grading scales and rigor can vary from school to school, and even from teacher to teacher within the same school. Some teachers grade on accuracy, while others grade on completion. Some teachers curve tests, while others do not. For some classes, tests make up almost an entirety of one’s grade, while in others they do not. Therefore, GPAs are not always comparable and grades are not always an accurate measure of a student’s cognitive abilities for colleges to assess.

In fact, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first colleges to announce a return to testing requirements for the Class of 2023, and stated that the test-optional process actually disadvantages students from low-income families. In a Q&A with the MIT news office, Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill explained that the use of standardized tests has historically helped the admissions department recognize students of low socioeconomic status who would be capable of handling the school’s difficult academics, but who had not had the time or resources to dedicate to their classwork in high school in order to achieve a perfect GPA.

Without test scores, admissions officers have to rely more heavily on other parts of the application, such as grades, course rigor, extracurriculars and essays. All of these factors are impacted by a student’s financial status, school resources, opportunities and luck. While the admissions process should be holistic and should not come down simply to one test score, it is important to have scores as a point of reference for the rest of the application since other components, such as essays, can be interpreted differently by various readers.

It is also important to recognize that, as colleges continue to encourage students to only submit scores if they are in the top half of that school’s average range, their average will continue to increase exponentially. Soon, all colleges will have incredibly high “averages” if only the top-scoring students are told to submit them. This breeds more stress as students feel that they need to achieve the highest scores possible to be able to send them to colleges, and if they receive anything less than perfect scores, they are disappointed. What used to be considered a great score will now be thought of as low compared to colleges’ ever-rising standards.

Test scores are the only part of a student’s application that is truly comparable to another student. By removing standardized testing requirements, colleges are only encouraging more subjectivity in the admissions process.