The Prism: Every Side of the Story

College Unpacked: Standardized Testing


Many juniors, seniors, and even sophomores are familiar with the SAT and the ACT. Fundamentally , the SAT and ACT are meant to be standardized tests given to high school students so that colleges can see how much they know. At least, that is what is supposed to happen.

Indeed, there are many aspects of these tests that are not fair to a lot of students. This perspective has spread, and over 1000 colleges have gone test optional as of 2019. Even one of the most selective colleges in the United States, the University of Chicago, went test optional in the summer of 2018. Thus, the question of whether these tests can become completely obsolete is inevitably posed. Do standardized tests deserve to be phased out or do their benefits warrant an enduring role in the college application process?

To answer these questions, the variance between the intended purposes of the SAT and ACT and what they actually do must be examined. As previously mentioned, these tests are designed to be high school aptitude tests in which students demonstrate reasoning skills, among others they learned in high school. This is where a fatal flaw can be found: there is no way to guarantee every high schooler has learned the exact same thing. This is one of the biggest issues that many people have with these tests. It not only generalizes the aptitude of every student in the United States but also generalizes the high school curriculum of all of its schools.

The other problem with the SAT and ACT is that it is becoming less of an aptitude test and more of a money game. Students with families of a higher social class can pay for prep books, tutors, and multiple test dates, which all cost a lot of money- around $60 per test with the essay and around $50 dollars without it for both the ACT and SAT. This number grows to over $100 dollars with late registration fees and prep book materials. This price can grow disturbingly high when compounded with tutoring fees and extra test takings, which many students end up doing. This is undeniably makes easier for wealthy families, while students of a lower socioeconomic status are at a disadvantage if they cannot afford all of these testing luxuries.

With all of these discrepancies, it seems as if it would be a no brainer to remove this standardized testing system completely. This would be a fair argument as the student’s transcript, GPA, and college essay show way far more about the student than a test score. However, there are problems with removing the tests from the college application process completely.

One positive aspect of the ACT and SAT is that it makes the college application process easier for schools that have to consider thousands of applicants in a matter of months. The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) received 102,000 applicants in 2017, and that number is only growing as more years pass. Other big universities like New York University, Boston University and the other colleges in the University of California system can receive 60,000 to 90,000 applicants per semester very easily. In order consider all of those applicants fairly and efficiently, standardized testing comes in handy. It is easiest to sort out the top applicants via standardized test scores and then consider that reduced applicant pool by looking at the other parts of their applications. If higher ed institutions did away with testing, it would make it nearly impossible to sort through all of those applicants in a matter of months.

Another positive to standardized testing is the undeniable fairness of a situation in which every kid sits in a similar room with the same exact test on the exact same day proctored by a similar teachers with the similar training. This makes it easier to compare students’ abilities because of all of those controls in the testing process.

Overall, there are positives and negatives to standardized testing, benefitting certain colleges and not others. This is why some colleges will go test optional, typically smaller colleges or colleges with a smaller applicant pool, and why some might never go test optional. Standardized testing will not become obsolete anytime soon (if ever), but that does not mean that changes and improvements cannot be made to the undeniably more unfair aspects of these tests.

Sources and for further reading:

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/colleges-that-received-the-most-applications

http://fairtest.org/university/optional

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