What’s Going on With the SAT and ACT?

February 16, 2024

Over the past decade, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the SAT and ACT. Even before the pandemic there were questions about whether the test was biased, and whether the results were indicative of true intelligence and academic potential. Students struggled to decide whether to take the SAT or ACT, and then later, whether they needed either test at all. In the past few years, many schools have moved away from using standardized tests as a way to determine which students to accept, instead weighing grades, essays, and extracurriculars more heavily as a way to get a better sense of a student as a whole. But now, it seems the tides have turned – last week, Dartmouth announced it will be requiring standardized testing again, and other schools, such as Yale, are also exploring the option of bringing back the requirement.

But why?

THERE'S BIAS IN OTHER AREAS, TOO

Standardized tests have long been criticized as being biased towards wealthy students. Some of the content is more familiar to students who come from more privileged backgrounds, and many point out that success on the test may be due to their access to high-quality tutors and test preparation. But now, proponents of the test are pointing out that although the test isn’t perfectly unbiased, it may actually be the least biased of all the admissions criteria. After all, students with access to better writing programs and tutors may write better essays. Students who attend elite private schools may have access to stronger extracurriculars and may have guidance counselors who can write very personalized recommendations. Those students may have access to interview coaches and consultants, and members of admissions teams reading those essays or conducting interviews may have their own implicit biases. With this in mind, some argue that standardized tests are actually the least biased of all application criteria. And, if it is the least biased measure, schools are now considering whether including standardized test scores in their admissions criteria may be a way to boost both racial and economic diversity now that affirmative action has been dismantled.

IT'S INDICATIVE OF SUCCESS - AND GRADES AREN'T ALWAYS

Another major argument for standardized testing is that research shows that it’s indicative of academic success in college. Many admissions teams have pointed out that grade inflation has made it difficult to evaluate students based on classroom performance—and they’ve always struggled with the fact that an A at one school may not be equal to an A at another. Standardized tests give students the opportunity to demonstrate their aptitude on an even playing field. Additionally, researchers have found that students with higher standardized test scores have a tendency to do better once they get to college—M.I.T., for example, tracked their students and found that those students they accepted despite lower test scores were more likely to struggle or drop out than those with higher scores.

SO WITH THIS IN MIND, WHY AREN'T ALL SCHOOLS REQUIRING IT?

Even with all this said, there are still some reasons schools aren’t requiring test scores. For one, preparing for a standardized test can be very stressful—students often spend months preparing for tests, and this can be especially stressful for students who just lived through a global pandemic. Some also feel that it’s unfair to reduce a student to a number, and don’t want their students to feel like that’s how schools view them. Finally, there’s still some lingering inequity in the tests—they aren’t perfect, and some students have more access to resources to prepare than others.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

At this point, it’s hard to predict the future. Other schools may follow Dartmouth’s lead and reinstate testing, or they may decide to keep it optional. With that being said, we recommend that all students at least explore the option of testing—you may end up needing the test if schools reinstate it, and in that case, it’s better to be prepared! Additionally, you may find you do better than expected. Even at schools where testing is optional, strong test scores can further support an already strong application. Finally, the skills learned during test prep won’t only be used on the test—students who prepare for tests like the SAT and ACT are also honing critical thinking skills, reviewing academic materials, and are practicing setting and meeting long-term goals. 

If you have any questions about testing or our SAT/ACT tutoring program, we would be happy to answer your questions and provide guidance about timelines and preparation options. You can learn more by filling out our inquiry form or emailing info@smartcitytutoring.com. 

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