How Much Should SAT and ACT Tests Count in Admissions Decisions?

Mar 17, 2011

Taking standardized college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT are major milestones for many high school students. Good performance on these exams has long been considered important toward college admissions. But some schools are starting to de-emphasize this part of a student's application.

By Sarah Wright

Tests Optional at DePaul

DePaul University, located in Chicago, has made news by announcing that in 2011, undergraduate applicants will no longer have to report their scores on standardized college admissions tests. What this means is that applicants for the entering freshman class of 2012 will be allowed to submit SAT and ACT scores, but they will not be penalized if they opt out of submitting them. Students who opt out will be asked to answer a series of questions that will determine 'noncognitive' abilities, like leadership and determination.

golden ticket

This is not the first time a college has made such a decision, but DePaul is the largest private school to have done so. According to a DePaul admissions representative, the move is targeted in part at eligible students who did not perform well on admissions tests. For example, if a student has a good GPA and high extracurricular involvement, but below-average test scores, he or she might benefit from the alternative entrance steps offered by DePaul and other colleges.

The de-emphasis of college aptitude exams represents a huge change to the admissions process in the U.S. As with all major changes, this one has both critics and supporters. Critics of the move away from standardized admissions requirements may feel that unprepared, or unqualified, students could slip past better-qualified students. The goal of standardized tests is, after all, to apply the same standards to all students.

Standardized Testing Critics

However, standardized tests themselves have long been held up to scrutiny. The SAT in particular has been the target of attacks for a long time. Statistics have shown that wealthy white students perform disproportionately better on the test than minority and low-income students. The test's critics say that this disparity is not because of a gap in ability. Some argue that the test is written to favor members of a certain culture, especially with respect to vocabulary. Others make the point that expensive SAT prep classes have been shown to dramatically improve students' scores on the test, and these classes are not available to all students.

reading the admissions letter

Even those students within the groups that are supposed to do best on the SAT may feel that the test doesn't adequately measure their capabilities. Some students suffer from test anxiety, and do not perform as well on standardized tests as they do in regular classroom settings and on school assignments. Other students may have strengths and abilities that are not measured by standardized tests. Some may be particularly deficient in one area of a test, like math, but excel in another, which would bring their overall score down.

Fortunately for students who do not perform particularly well on the SAT and ACT, these are not the only factors considered in college admissions. Even in large schools where the admissions process is more about numbers than personality, other factors still count, including the overall high school GPA. But should students who don't perform well on tests be forced to run the risk of a college rejection, just because of a single test? The future of college admissions without standardized tests may seem uncertain to some, but it is very likely a welcome idea to many.

If you'd like to read more about college admissions, check out our article about financial status and the admissions process.


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