He studied for hours. He took every tutoring course. He poured hours of time, energy and substantial amounts of money into test prep, fees and study books. But when he opened up his test scores, all of that preparation suddenly meant nothing, and overwhelming disappointment took hold.
Joe’s* high GPA, participation on the football team, extracurriculars and excellent teacher recommendations all seemed to wither away in the presence of the “inadequate” score in front of him.
This situation is all too familiar for high school upperclassmen across the nation, especially when it comes time to apply for college. With more people applying to colleges and universities than ever, the pressure to perform well on the SAT/ACT is more real than it’s ever been. However, test results that aren’t always indicative of a student’s achievements begs the question: just how important are standardized tests?
Over 190 colleges in the United States have adopted a “test optional” policy, in which applicants have the option of whether or not to submit their SAT/ACT scores and they are not considered a part of one’s application.
“A lot of colleges have done their research and have begun to see that test scores aren’t always the best predictor of how well a student will do with college curriculum,” said Mackenzie Chasteen, Director of Admissions Recruitment and Enrollment at the College of Charleston. “I can’t speak to exactly why there is a recent trend, but I think that over time the more research that is done is showing that high school curriculum and GPA can be a better predictor than one test on a Saturday morning.”
Smaller private or liberal arts colleges were the first to adopt this policy, but recently larger/top 100 ranked universities such as Wake Forest and George Washington have adopted a test-optional policy.
“One reason is you can have a really good student who works really hard, has a great GPA, tons of extracurriculars, but is not a great [standardized] test taker. Colleges are realizing that it’s not exactly fair to base a student’s acceptance solely off of that test score,” Liz Boeschen, a Wando career counselor said.
However, Boeschen notes that it’s important to understand that just because a school is test optional, doesn’t mean that they are somehow “easier” to get into.
“I will say for a school like Furman, for example — Furman is an elite school in our state, and I love that they’re test optional,” Boeschen said. “But it’s important to look at their minimum GPA is, and see if it’s a high GPA, it shows you need to be consistent on that. I think it’s important that if you’re not going to send in your test scores, to make sure that your GPA is strong and your extracurriculars are even stronger.”
Boeschen also believes that test optional schools provide a broader range of selection for students who are not great standardized test takers — an idea that senior Joe* sympathizes with.
As someone who has a 4.3 GPA, plays sports, is in extracurricular activities and is well liked by teachers and community members, Joe is someone who has an outstanding college application, except for one thing: his SAT/ACT scores.
“I feel like if I study for something at school and work really hard I can do well, but with standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, I’ve had tutors who tell me different things or teach me the method and when I actually get to the test, it doesn’t even matter. I just end up not doing as well,” Joe said. “I work really hard to get involved and be a good student, and I don’t think my SAT score reflects that.”
However, Joe still feels that standardized tests hold some value in the application process. “I know that there’s some schools whose curriculum isn’t necessarily as hard as it is as Wando, so they shouldn’t just look at that, but your GPA and extracurriculars should definitely have more emphasis,” he said.
Although the SAT/ACT optional schools provide the benefit of omitting those scores for those who did not do well, students who performed well and feel that their score is a reflection of their work as a student are still encouraged to send their scores.
Senior Tanner Crunelle has taken the SAT a total of four times, and has earned a score of 1540 on a 1600 scale.
“I think that for the schools I’m applying to it helps, because those colleges view it as an indicator of how well you’ve done in school objectively, barring all biases like individual school grading systems. I think it better shows from an objective point of view what I’ve learned,” Crunelle said. “But I don’t think it has any real value in determining how well you’re going to do in college. I think it can show what material you’ve learned, but it doesn’t necessarily show your ability.”
As someone who has done well on the SAT, Crunelle recognizes that while it has opened doors for him, it can just as easily close them.
“It’s sad,” Crunelle said. “Especially when you think about people who might not have access to test resources, whether it’s consistent Internet access, money for a tutor or what have you. It just isn’t fair. I don’t at all think a few hours on a Saturday morning shows your accomplishments all throughout your high school career.”
Although many are in favor of the test-optional policy, it’s not clear how many schools will actually adopt this trend in the future.
“For a USC or a Clemson, there’s upwards of 20,000 applicants a year, and as much as they would like be able to delve into what really makes up each student, but they just don’t have the time, which is why we have standardized testing,” Boescmen said.
In contrast, Chasteen believes it could become a trend, and the more research that is done could cause an even larger group of schools to adopt this policy.
“I don’t know how soon, but I definitely think it will be more widespread in the next five years. There’s already a pretty diverse group of schools that are test-optional, and every school has their own way of being test-optional,” she said. “But I think it is viable for larger state schools that are looking at 30,000 applications all the way to a smaller private school with a class of 1,500.”