In the world of college admissions, few things change frequently.
Except in one area—standardized testing* requirements for admission.
It has been my observation that, in the last 5 to 7 years, standardized testing requirements have seen the highest rate of change for a significant number of colleges and universities in the United States.
Some may wonder if the end of standardized testing is approaching. I don’t believe that’s the case—just yet.
But, most recently, I have noticed big changes in three areas of standardized testing requirements.
1. Test-optional Movement
Even though the test-optional movement is several decades old, it has become more prominent in the past 5 years, as the pace of schools that have become has greatly increased.
For example, for this current admission cycle, one of the biggest announcements about optional testing came from the University of Chicago. This well-known, highly selective university announced in June 2018 that they were changing to test-optional. In other words, they will no longer require students to submit the SAT or ACT.
While we do not yet know how this change will impact this admission cycle, many people in the world of college admission and education anticipate a domino effect. After all, it stands to reason that when a school as selective as the University of Chicago decides to go test-optional, other schools (similarly selective) may consider such a move as well.
Moreover, another subset of this movement that has also seen an increase is called “test flexible.” This means that a university may require standardized testing, but they are more flexible. Instead of insisting that students submit an SAT or ACT, they get more choices about which tests they can submit.
An example of this is New York University, which requires testing, but instead of an SAT or ACT, students may submit their AP scores, a combination of subjects exams, or whatever they feel will reflect on them the strongest way.
Why do universities choose to go “test-optional”?
The reasons schools are changing to test-optional or test-flexible options is complicated.
Some critics of these movements say that the primary reason schools choose to change to test-optional is only for their own benefit, as it increases applications. The common wisdom seems to be that—especially in the first year—colleges that change to test-optional will see a drastic increase in the number of applications.
For many universities, that fact is of immense value as it helps them acquire higher rankings and subsequent prestige.
However, in contrast to this pessimistic reasoning, more and more studies (coming directly from colleges) are chipping away at the actual benefit of standardized testing. As a result of this research, many universities are starting to understand that a student’s high school transcript is a more relevant predictor of college performance than an SAT or ACT score.
In other words, growing evidence shows that standardized testing measures something but not necessarily what is valuable for college admissions.
My recommendation to students:
Even though you may strongly consider only applying to test-optional schools, you should always take the SAT or ACT. The simple reason is that it will take you time to develop your final list of colleges. In the meantime, you need to see what your scores look like. The results may influence your decision-making regarding the type of colleges you want to apply.
2. SAT Subject Tests
More than a decade ago, quite a few selective universities around the United States required Subject Tests. Some of the most selective ones required 3 Subjects Tests for college admissions.
But then, change started. At first, these schools decreased their requirement to 2 Subject Tests. And now, within the last 5 years, the number of colleges that require or are even strongly interested in seeing Subject Test scores has dwindled dramatically to include just a handful.
The confusing part is, while many colleges do not require Subject Tests anymore, they still recommend them. But what does “recommended” mean? I personally believe a more black and white approach would probably bring a lot more clarity for students, counselors, and families alike.
In the end, I predict that Subject Tests will become less and less important to colleges over time. In fact, they may soon be eliminated altogether.
My recommendation to students:
As you start to develop a list of colleges sometime during your junior year, you may not need to take Subject Tests or make the decision whether or not you need them. It all depends on your potential interests.
3. SAT/ACT Writing Section
The change that seems to signal the death of a particular part of standardized testing most clearly is that which was made to the SAT/ACT writing section.
Traditionally, SAT and ACT exams have included a written essay portion that was scored. Now, many schools have moved from requiring the writing section to simply recommending it or making it altogether optional for the student. That means when a student registers for either exam, they can now often choose if they want to take the writing section or not.
Likely, as more and more colleges take the writing section off their requirement list, it eventually may not even be financially viable for the SAT or ACT to offer it.
My recommendation to students:
Regardless of all the changes, you will still have to take tests and, therefore, should prepare for taking the writing section. The fact is that it is always good to know how you would do because you usually do not know from the start where you will be applying. Chances are, you might want to apply to a school that still recommends it. And so, if you took it, you have it.
As an Independent Educational Consultant, I always keep abreast of changes in the college education system. If you would like support with entrance exam preparations, please contact me. I would be happy to use my expertise on your behalf.
(*Note: Look for more information on standardized testing—SAT, ACT, AP, IB, and subject exams—in the post, “The Different Flavors of Standardized Tests.”)