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Overruled: COVID-Era Testing Mandates Reevaluated

By Elina Jacob and Obed Glanson

Ever since the introduction of standardized testing, tests such as the SAT and ACT have become notorious for their importance in college admissions. In 2020, however, its position in admissions drastically changed. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, prominent colleges and universities have taken steps to introduce test optional policies, allowing students to choose whether to submit their test scores. While students across the globe embraced this change, colleges have taken steps to reintroduce standardized testing, changing the landscape of college admissions entirely. 

“I feel like it definitely puts more pressure on students because the SAT is a big undertaking and studying for it is definitely time consuming and it puts a lot more additional stress on students that wasn’t necessarily there in the past years,” senior Varun Pillai said.

Source from Anna Detke

The pandemic changed the way many students, teachers and admissions officers have viewed these tests, and its prevalence has certainly diminished since the first test optional policies were introduced.

Standardized testing is an examination in which the administration, scoring and content of the test is the same or very similar for all participants, creating a benchmark for performance. In the United States, standardized tests are more contemporary, being first used in the early 20th century. In 1926, the first SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test was administered. Created by Carl Brigham, the SAT aimed to assess natural aptitude, or intelligence for college admission and readiness. Even so, the SAT has been criticized for decades for its narrow subject range, time constraints and more. 

“From the standpoint that a student must be dedicated to do well, yes the SAT is a good indicator of college readiness,” English teacher Mr. Colvin said.  “From the standpoint that the SAT is just a few hours of a student’s academic qualifications, no.”

To compete with the SAT, the ACT, or American College Testing, was introduced in 1959, testing not of innate intellectual abilities, but high school competence. The ACT was not originally meant to be a rival to the SAT, but a secondary option. The creator, Dr. Everett Lindquist brought this up to the College Board, the organization running the SAT, but was shut down. Lindquist then created his own exam, claiming to be a more appropriate way to measure college readiness. 

The SAT and ACT are staples in admissions as they provide a basis of college readiness that is standardized, unlike other factors like GPA. Amidst their many flaws, both the SAT and ACT do allow colleges to get a grasp on a student's potential and college preparedness. While some colleges are test-optional, a majority of colleges require the SAT or ACT to be taken, especially top-rated schools. In spite of this, many colleges shifted from mandatory testing to test optional, in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown prohibited students from taking these tests, which in turn made taking these tests nearly impossible. 

After the pandemic however, the arena began to change. Top colleges across the country have begun reinstating the previous policy of the SAT, making it obligatory for admission. This was for many reasons, but as many officials stated, the SAT and ACT are the single greatest indicator of college success. While this claim can be heavily contested, it’s not far from the truth. As other factors such as GPA, class rank and certain extracurriculars have become more obsolete, colleges are focusing on more concrete criteria. While this is the case, the SAT is just one part of the college admissions process. 

“I don’t think it’s necessarily harmful, I think it’s a decent way for colleges to get a sense of how well a student is suited,” junior Clayton Yu said. “Although it does add a lot of pressure, I think it’s a good thing overall.” 

In the past two months, Dartmouth College, Yale University and Brown University are all examples of selective colleges reinstating the SAT/ACT mandate for their admissions process. However, there are also schools who have declared they will be moving forward with test optional policies, such as Columbia University and the University of Chicago. 

There has also been a varied reaction from public schools; those under the University of California name have decided to be test-blind, while the University of Tennessee requires SAT/ACT scores. 

There is no universal decision on the future of the standardized test and its role in college admissions. The pandemic changed the way many students, teachers and admissions officers have viewed these tests, and its prevalence has certainly diminished since the first test optional policies were introduced. Only time will tell how colleges and universities decide to handle this part of the application in the future. 


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