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Colleges are rethinking the importance of stan­dard­ized tests, and that's a good thing

Founder/Senior Editor
B.A., M.Div.
Jeremy Alder has spent over a decade researching and writing about higher education to provided students with the information they need to achieve their goals. He has significant personal experience with career transitions, working as a freelance writer and editor, non-profit director, community organizer, preacher, teacher, retail manager, and carpenter prior to founding College Consensus. Homeschooled from the second grade, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., Philosophy) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, five kids, and a Labradoodle named Hank.

When I was applying for college (over 20 years ago), SAT or ACT scores were required by every major school and were widely thought to be a significant determining factor in admissions. This is no longer the case. Over the years, colleges and universities have undergone shifts in their views on standardized admissions tests. While standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT have been widely used as a component of the college admissions process, there has been a growing acknowledgment of their limitations and a movement toward more holistic admissions practices. In my opinion, this is a good thing.

Here are several ways in which colleges have changed their views on standardized admissions tests:

Test-Optional Policies: One significant trend is the adoption of test-optional or test-flexible policies by an increasing number of colleges. Test-optional policies allow applicants to decide whether or not to submit standardized test scores as part of their application. This change reflects a recognition that standardized tests may not be the best predictors of academic success for all students.

Focus on Holistic Admissions: Many institutions now emphasize a holistic admissions approach, considering various aspects of an applicant’s profile beyond just test scores. Factors such as GPA, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, essays, and interviews are given more weight in the decision-making process.

Consideration of Socioeconomic Factors: There is a growing awareness of the impact of socioeconomic factors on standardized test performance. Some colleges are taking steps to consider the context in which an applicant’s academic achievements occurred, recognizing that students from different backgrounds may face varying educational opportunities.

Pilot Programs and Studies: Some colleges and universities have participated in pilot programs or conducted studies to assess the validity and reliability of standardized tests in predicting academic success. This research has contributed to a more nuanced understanding of the role these tests play in the admissions process.

Increased Use of Test-Optional Policies during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the traditional administration of standardized tests, leading many colleges to adopt test-optional policies temporarily. Some institutions have continued these policies beyond the pandemic, signaling a more lasting shift away from strict reliance on test scores.

Development of New Assessments: Some colleges and educational organizations are exploring or developing alternative assessments that aim to measure applicants’ skills, abilities, and potential in a more nuanced way. These assessments may include more authentic measures of critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.

Increased Access to Test Preparation: Recognizing the impact of test preparation on scores, some colleges have taken steps to promote access to test preparation resources, aiming to level the playing field for students who may not have the financial means to afford expensive test preparation courses.

It’s important to note that the changes in views on standardized admissions tests vary by institution, and not all colleges have adopted test-optional policies. Some institutions continue to consider standardized test scores as part of their admissions criteria, although they may be just one of many factors. As the landscape of college admissions continues to evolve, it’s advisable for prospective students to stay informed about the specific policies of the colleges to which they are applying. That said, as we learn more about the limitations and biases inherent to standardized testing, expect even more schools to take a more nuanced approach to their use in admissions decisions going forward.