SATs Disappearing from Admissions Process

The legendary exam is now holding less weight with universities.

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Ben Mullins

SAT scores have long been a source of pride, and anxiety, for college hopefuls.

Ada Zhang, Staff Writer

The three letters that held the fate of millions of students year after year might become a thing of the past as universities start to move away from considering SAT scores for applicants. 

More than 1,500 colleges have a newly implemented test-optional policy. And some top schools like the University of California have stopped looking at SAT and ACT tests altogether. Critics of such tests agree that the standardized tests unfairly hindered students with limited financial resources, but some argue that the admissions process would become even more biased without the test scores.

The SAT was once the golden standard for colleague admission. According to the College Board, research from 2016 on data from more than 223,000 students across 171 four-year colleges and universities showed that students with higher SAT scores were more likely to have higher first-year grade-point averages, or FYGPA.

The main issue with SAT and ACT testing, however, is that wealthier students have better access to test prep and are able to pay for others to teach them how to do well on tests. Inside Higher Ed said that in the reading section of the SAT, the students with family incomes over $200,00 scored on average 137 points higher than students with family incomes below $20,000.

Another problem with the tests is that the SATs might not be a good indicator of college success at all. UC Riverside studied high school GPAs and student outcomes for 7,889 freshmen who enrolled in 2012 and 2013. It found, as stated in the Los Angeles Times, “The six-year graduation rate for those with SAT scores between 900 and 1090 was 81% compared with 83% for those with SAT scores between 1100 and 1600, the highest score possible.“ 

On top of that, heavy reliance on standardized test scores makes it easier for people to cheat their way into colleges. Students were able to gain more time to complete the SAT if they claimed that they had a learning disability. Students also have been known to pay imposters to take the test for them. Plus, USA Today says that in August 2018, many students found that they had taken the same test as the one that was released in October 2017, which had been leaked online as well.

On the other hand, North Allegheny Senior Alina Zaidi thinks that completely eradicating standardized tests from the college application process would do more harm than good. She believes that without the standardized tests, the decisions would rely mainly on high school grades, which may still favor wealthier students because they have better access to tutors to help them achieve better grades and do well in school.

Without the SATs, extracurriculars also become a bigger factor, but even then, students with more wealth are more likely to have access to sports, volunteer work, and other hobbies that they can explore that might be less accessible to students from lower income families.

It’s a timed assessment…and it makes sure you’re prepared for the coursework that university provides.”

— Tom Bu

CMU graduate student Tom Bu agrees that it would be useful to keep the SATs in place. Bu says, “I think it does provide some sort of baseline that universities can use to evaluate students…and it does evaluate general academic performance and aptitude in some way. It’s a timed assessment and it evaluates critical thinking and it makes sure you’re prepared for the coursework that university provides.”

Bu also cites evidence from last year, when many universities waived their SAT/ACT test requirements because of the pandemic: “Students were willing to throw their application to schools that they normally wouldn’t consider, so you saw a huge drop in acceptance rates. I remember hearing from the admissions committee that the increase in applications caused delays and caused them to be even more subjective on what students have done and puts pressure on the amount of resources that the students have available to them.”

Overall, the college admission process is a complex but critical issue. More resources need to be devoted to understanding the pros and cons before implementing dramatic policy changes. As Zaidi says, “The fight to give each student an equal opportunity to showcase their abilities for college doesn’t end with standardized testing. There’s much work to be done.”