I finished high school in the late seventies, and there was a lot of talk about how the SAT was an unfair test that merely benefitted the wealthy. Many predicted its demise within ten years. Here we are almost 45 years later, and only now that the pandemic created testing obstacles for a short period of time during the height of covid has renewed discussion of the relevance of the SAT and ACT come up again. The real question is what does “test-optional” mean?
As of early 2022, 64% of the top 200 colleges and universities list themselves as test optional. Only 5.5% have announced that test scores will again be required; included among these schools are MIT, Georgetown, UNC Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, and Florida State University (I).
There are five critical reasons that “test-optional” means that SAT and ACT scores continue to be important for high school students who want to be accepted to the colleges of their choice: 1) High school grade inflation, 2) other features of college applications – essay and extracurriculars – have issues, 3) recent admissions statistics show major advantages of sending test scores, 4) test scores continue to determine merit scholarships and acceptance into honors programs, and 5) top schools, including MIT, state that the SAT and ACT are more important than grades in determining college readiness. Further, more schools are announcing that SAT/ACT tests will again be required for applicants in the future.
1. High School Grade Inflation
The ACT recently wrote a blog about grade inflation as a “systemic problem in US High Schools” (II) . Indeed, in the 1970s, 25-30 percent of freshman at 4-year college graduated from high school with an A+, A or A- average, whereas in 2020, that percent was closer to 68% (III).
With this much grade inflation, college admissions officers need more than just a GPA to distinguish among their applicants. Enter the SAT and ACT scores.
2. College Essay and Extracurriculars
With grade inflation, perhaps the college essay and extracurriculars listed on the Common App will have additional significance? But who really wrote that college essay? David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, nailed this issue: “Add up all the cheating scandals [on the SAT and ACT] any way you want—they don’t compare to the number of students who get substantial help on their essays.”(IV)
Are the extra-curriculars appropriately described or exaggerated? Don’t these items in a college application favor the wealthy who can hire tutors and college advisors? Where is the element whose scores can distinguish among students and represents a “fair” measure of student readiness? Enter the SAT and ACT scores.
Some will argue that the SAT and ACT tests favor the wealthy who can pay for tutors and coaches for test-prep. Yes, that is true. However, there are plenty of free resources for the underprivileged and underserved. And the tutor or coach is not taking the test – the student is. So, the resulting score represents the student’s efforts and hard work.
3. College Admissions Results show Major Advantages to those Students who submitted scores
Judi Rubinovitz listed last May in her article “3 Reasons Scores Still Matter at Test Optional Schools” the calculated advantages for students who submitted test scores at these schools (V):
These statistics make it clear that it has been advantageous for students to submit their scores to test-optional schools.
4. Test Scores have additional value beyond college acceptance
Beyond its advantage to students in the application process, test scores continue to be the determining factor for such important issues as merit scholarship dollar awards and entrance to college Honors programs. Given the extraordinarily high cost of today’s college education, merit scholarships can make the difference between a college education being affordable versus one that is not. Every student who can score high enough for merit scholarship potential should be prepping for and taking the SAT or ACT. Further, those who desire to attend honors college programs can only be admitted through their SAT or ACT scores.
5. Top Colleges acknowledge that SAT/ACT scores are “more important” than Grades
Harvard University states in its marketing materials to high school students that “SAT and ACT tests are better predictors of Harvard grades than high school grades…” (Harvard’s Admissions website).
MIT, who recently chose to require the SAT or ACT beginning in 2024, said this in a 2020 blog post during the pandemic: “We will continue to require the SAT or the ACT, because our research has shown these tests, in combination with a student’s high school grades and coursework, are predictive of success in our challenging curriculum. While we know these tests are not perfect, they do provide an informative and consistent measure of a student’s academic potential.” (VI)
More colleges and universities are likely to require the SAT and ACT for admissions going forward. However, even for those schools that remain test optional, students should understand all the factors that create advantages for admissions and scholarship funds when determining whether to take the SAT or ACT. Educate yourself! Make good decisions. Take the admissions process seriously. If you have concluded that your high-school student should take these tests and do the necessary prep to achieve a high score, contact Shark Tutor LLC.
(I) Natalie Bader, Supertutortv.com, “Test Optional: What Colleges are, Which aren’t,” 3/18/22,
(II) Leadershipblog.act.org, “Grade Inflation: A Systemic Problem in US High Schools, ACT Report Shows,” 5/16/22.
(III) DavidBlobaum.com, “Hiding Inequality,” 4/18/22
(IV) Eren Orbey, “How the Pandemic Remade the SAT,” The New Yorker.com, 5/24/22.
(V) Judi Rubinovitz, ScoreAttheTop.com, “Myth Buster: 3 Reasons Scores Still Matter at “Test Optional” Colleges,” 5/5/21
(VI) Larry S. Su, InsideHigherEd.com, “Keep the SAT and ACT,” 8/2/21.
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