The August before my junior year of high school, I spent every Friday afternoon at the Tutor Shack preparing for the SAT and ACT. During the week, but more often than not the Thursday before my next tutoring session, I would complete a full-length practice exam and review flashcards of questions I had previously gotten wrong.
During the school year, we had a dedicated class block a few times a week to practice SAT and ACT problems on Khan Academy, and we all took the PSAT every fall. I spent Saturday mornings waking up full of anxiety and scrounging around at the last minute for charged batteries or for my calculator and making sure my #2 pencils were sharpened. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time preparing for these standardized tests. They had loomed over me since I was a first-year student; I knew they were coming, and I knew that doing well on them was practically essential to getting into a good college such as Carleton.
Or so it used to be the case. The COVID-19 pandemic has seemed to hasten the inevitable: the removal of the requirement for college applicants to submit standardized test scores along with the rest of their application materials. Starting in Fall 2022, Carleton will join what is, according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a “record 1,785+ schools” that have adopted a test-optional admission policy. However, not all schools have entirely ditched the requirement. Some schools, such as Harvard University, have dropped the requirement until 2026, with the possibility of extending it further.
The College Board has, in turn, announced that beginning in 2024, the SAT will be administered digitally and the exam will be shortened from three hours to two. Nevertheless, more and more colleges are hopping on the test-optional bandwagon and ditching the requirement entirely.
I have mixed feelings in regards to the increasing number of colleges dropping their standardized test requirements. True, this may be in part due to the amount of time I spent preparing for and taking the SAT and ACT (I ended up taking the SAT three times and I took the ACT once). While the exams do have some merit and should remain a requirement, I believe they should be revamped. Students should be allowed to superscore their results, but this also can be unfair as some students cannot afford to retake the exam multiple times while others can; in addition, sometimes the difficulty of questions can vary on different exams.
I was a supporter of the ACT proposal to allow students to retake certain sections as opposed to sitting through the entire exam again. By the time you get to the later sections, you’re more tired and most likely unable to put in the same amount of effort as you did in the earlier sections; it makes sense. The reason I took the SAT more than once was in an attempt to increase my math score; I was pretty content with the score I received on the reading part the first time. While the ACT ultimately decided against individual section retesting, I think they should take up this policy—as should the SAT.
I cannot help but think that when a college says something is optional, such as a supplemental question, they don’t really mean it’s optional. Why wouldn’t you do whatever you can to boost your chances of admission by answering the supplemental questions, obtaining an extra reference or submitting your standardized test scores? Of course, I have never been on the receiving end of college applications, but wouldn’t a college think that a student who has submitted supplemental test scores is more interested in coming to the school as opposed to a student who hasn’t? Of course, if you did poorly on the test, it makes sense not to submit your scores, as that might end up harming your overall chance of acceptance, but if you don’t even take the exam, why wouldn’t a college think you want to be admitted just as much as another applicant who did?
I’m not claiming to know what the perfect solution would be. Yes, some students are better test takers than others, and while it can seem unfair, there are tests in college, as well as entrance exams for graduate school if one decides to take that route. It also provides colleges with a baseline for the academic level the student is at in comparison to others; an “A” at one school could be equivalent to a “B” at another, depending on how academically rigorous the school is. Essentially, I think that colleges should either require standardized test scores for everyone or not accept them at all in order to level the playing field for applicants.