By Ryan Ryu ’25
The annual college application season has begun. High school seniors are busier than ever as the Regular Decision due date is coming up in less than two months. But one thing that bugs applicants the most—is the standardized tests.
Until a couple of years ago, most colleges required students to submit their standardized test scores, like SAT and ACT, with their application. But because of the lack of educational resources, teaching, and safety, many colleges loosened their admission policies by allowing new applicants to choose whether or not they would like to submit a test score (test optional).
Although it’s been a few years since the colleges were modified, the traditional trend of taking standardized tests hasn’t changed much. Many students, especially those being chased by their deadlines, waste a lot of time preparing for these tests. But are these tests worth the time, effort, anxiety, stress, and pain?
This year’s high school graduates’ ACT college admissions test scores hit their lowest point in more than 30 years — the latest evidence pointing to the enormity of pandemic learning disruption.
The class of 2022’s average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. What’s more, an increasing number of high school students failed to meet any of the subject-area benchmarks set by the ACT — showing a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.
The number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college and some universities no longer require admissions tests. Additionally, participation plunged by 37% among Black students, with 154,000 taking the test this year.
So what’s the problem? Why are standardized tests so overrated?
- Standardized tests are very time-consuming and take away students’ time for other college applications.
Anyone who’s taken the ACT / SAT can tell you what time-consuming it is. Long study sessions, review classes, tutoring, etc. It takes a while to become fully prepared, and time could be spent doing other important college prep things like writing, revising your application essay, or doing research. Students must secure their time for GPAs, extracurriculars, community service, recommendation letters, and essays to work on.
- The key to high SAT scores is test prep, which only the wealthy can afford.
While proponents argue that standardized tests provide an objective measure of student achievement, the data is more complicated. Research data from College Board suggests that the best predictor of success on the SAT is socioeconomic status rather than one’s education or grade level. Opponents of the SAT argue that this inequity arises because wealthy families have the time and money for test preparation resources and services, which essentially means that a good score can be purchased. For reference, College Board’s research suggested that a family income of $200,000 scored an average boost of 90 points, compared to the national average income of $54,132. Quite a difference here.
- It Can Negatively Impact Students’ Confidence
Standardized testing causes otherwise successful students to lose confidence in themselves and their abilities. Many students suffer from test anxiety, meaning that they do not perform at their usual level because they find the experience of test-taking so stressful. Evaluating a student’s performance only through an impartial test can negatively affect graduation rates if low scores demoralize students.
- There’s no relation between test scores and college performance.
Ideally, a standardized test would evaluate not just what a student knows already but also their learning potential. After all, colleges that use the SAT and ACT do so because they want to admit students who will succeed. But research done by UC Davis published in 2019 suggests that the SAT and ACT are poor predictors of student success at the undergraduate level.
- It Restricts Teachers’ Effectiveness and Creativity
Finally, another major argument is that an over-reliance on test data to measure student performance negatively impacts teachers’ ability to do their jobs. A standardized test at the end of the school year can disrupt a teacher’s curricular plan and force them to cover material that might be less relevant to their students. Similarly, many teachers find constant testing over the course of the year to be disruptive and unproductive to student learning.
At this point, taking standardized tests is entirely up to the students and families. But, it is crucial to understand that standardized tests are only some. Parents and teachers don’t push students to take the test. Students, don’t feel like you must take a test. Standardized tests cannot and will not be a measurement of your knowledge, talents, thinking, and real-life skills to your control. You control yourself; test scores will never contrast your value and strength.