Are the ACT and SAT Worth Stressing Over?

Ryan Palko `14

Last year in February I remember stressing about standardized tests. I know that I am not a very good standardized test taker which scared me about the prospects of going to a “good college.” As I have progressed through the college process I thought it was apt to ask my parents what they got on their ACT or SAT. Both of their responses were, “I have no clue. I showed up to take the ACT the night after homecoming” or “I have absolutely no clue.” I know that my parent’s scores were not very high on these standardized tests. Do these tests define the academic prowess of students? Both of my parents hold master’s degrees in their field and are successful. So, do standardized tests like the SAT and ACT accurately assess a student’s ability to perform at the collegiate level?

This debate has been waging for years but now there is research for the arguments. A study that was published on February 5 reviewed 33 public and private universities to understand the effectiveness of “test optional” admissions. This study found that submitting test scores or not submitting test scores had a negligible impact on GPA and graduation. The data shows that there is a 0.05 percent of a GPA point difference between test score submitters and non-submitters. Graduation only differed by 0.6 percent between these two groups. This is earth shattering news in the college admissions world. How are colleges going to evaluate everybody on a level playing field? This study argues that this is not necessary. Instead, high school GPA is the single tool that is needed for admission into a college.  Wrapped up in that GPA are “long term evidence of intellectual curiosity and hard work” said the Dean of Admission from Bates College, William Hiss.  High school GPAs vary from schools and regions of the country, but one thing is clear, they demonstrate a student’s motivation to learn.

The burning question in this debate between standardized test scores is: how will colleges evaluate students for admission if standardized test scores are null? Recently schools that have test optional policies are using unconventional methods to evaluate their applicant pool. For example, Wake Forest University has interviews for their applicants to talk with the admissions team. This personalizes the admission process and allows them to assess topics not seen on the application. Wake Forest is not the only college who uses the interview method. In fact, many schools are using this method.

To all the juniors and sophomores out there, you can fear no more about the SAT or ACT. I don’t want to say that these tests don’t matter, because they still do. Instead, do not overly stress about them. Go in and do your best. Colleges are increasingly looking for well-rounded students. Many emphasize the “holistic review” method. They will look at everything you have done in high school and evaluate. So approach standardized tests like a winner. Just remember to keep up your GPA because colleges value that heavily.


All 850 test optional schools:

2/5/14 Study on standardized test scores:

One response to “Are the ACT and SAT Worth Stressing Over?

  1. First of all, nice piece Ryan!

    I want to add a bit of information that kind of refutes your assertion in some cases just because I feel that it can be relevant.

    When applying to really competitive schools like the Ivy Leagues, it’s possible that students can get filtered out of admissions because their SAT or ACT test scores are relatively low (probably due to the large volumes of applicants they receive). As a result, it’s pretty important to keep a very high SAT or ACT score just to put one in the “safety zone” for applying. While holistic approaches usually are the case, there do tend to be lots of objective-filtration methods to single out individuals from a large pool of applications. Again, this usually applies only to heavily competitive universities.

    Personally, though, I think that WAY too much emphasis is placed on actual scores and specific numbers. I hope American society will move away from that.

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