It is Time to Abolish the SAT and ACT

Picture this: you have been working towards gaining entrance to your dream college throughout high school. Similar to many of your overachieving classmates, you have tackled a rigorous course load filled with honors and AP classes, extracurricular activities and even internships or research work. 

You boast an exceptional GPA and all of your teachers commend you for your stellar work ethic and meaningful contributions to the classroom. Your high school experience was definitely not like those of Gabriella and Troy’s in “High School Musical,” but you remind yourself that all of these sacrifices are worth it.

Alas, a key component of your plan lingers: taking the SAT or ACT. You have been on the Khan Academy website for hours on end and every Kaplan, Princeton Review and College Board practice book is stacked on your desk, serving as constant reminders for the daunting task ahead. 

Regardless of all of your other achievements, you remember that this one number could immediately categorize you into one of two piles in an admissions office. Unfortunately, your test anxiety gets the best of you on the big day, and you score lower than what you were aiming for. You plan to retake the exam and the vicious cycle of studying and stressing continues.

While seemingly dramatic, the aforementioned hypothetical is closer to the reality of college admissions processes for many high school students than some might think. 

On the other hand, this scenario only describes the process for a select few students across the country who are fortunate enough to work towards college acceptance with such fervor. 

It is no secret that the college admissions process has long been a mystery for countless students. However, the negative role that SAT and ACT exams play in this perplexing journey is loud and clear. 

The College Board, the nonprofit organization responsible for creating and administering the SAT exam, announced five changes to the SAT that are expected to roll out internationally in 2023 and nationally in 2024. The most drastic of changes includes a shift from traditional pencil-and-paper exams to fully digital versions. The ACT is also reportedly moving online, albeit not as quickly as the SAT. This newly adjusted SAT, however, masks the remaining need for a complete overhaul of standardized testing.  

Aside from going digital, the new exam will last two hours instead of three, contain shorter reading passages, allow for calculator use during both math sections, and will be unique to each test-taker, who will now receive scores in a matter of days. 

Although test-takers who took pilot versions of this new format reported a decrease in stress levels, these changes are merely marketing tactics employed by College Board to incentivize students to take the SAT in this increasingly test-optional, or even test-blind, college admissions landscape. 

Since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many prominent universities have instated test-optional admissions practices to account for student’s inability to take these exams due to lack of access to testing sites. The Macaulay Honors College has adopted a test-blind policy, prohibiting any applicant from submitting an SAT or ACT score. However, some institutions are starting to roll back on these policies in favor of their previous requirements. 

The danger of this decision lies in the stagnation it causes regarding standardized testing reform and college admissions practices as a whole. Now is the moment to follow in the footsteps of many leading institutions by permanently banning the use of standardized tests in the admissions process. 

Both the SAT and ACT must be discontinued because these assessments fail to adequately predict college success and favor students from privileged and wealthy backgrounds.  

Many students are unable to afford the costly test prep programs that are designed to help students achieve high scores on the SAT and ACT. Aside from high test costs themselves, quality test-prep courses or one-on-one tutoring sessions can run families up to thousands of dollars. This, however, is not a luxury many low-income students have. 

A student’s high school GPA is arguably a better predictor of college success than the SAT or ACT. The continuity of a GPA allows a student to demonstrate academic achievement during their entire high school career, as opposed to just one or two specific high-stakes exams. Colleges are able to view student improvement over a longer period of time; if a student struggled in a class initially, they are still able to demonstrate their capabilities as the year progresses. 

The many alternative metrics, such as GPA or AP scores, prove to be better predictors of postsecondary success, as they represent the student’s aptitude after a year’s worth of work. Additionally, teacher recommendations and extracurricular activities play an important role in the process as well. 

As a student attempts to convey their passion for a certain discipline or career to an admissions committee, extracurricular activity commitments provide colleges with an example of a student’s leadership skills and devotion to their interests. Teacher recommendations provide both a personal and professional review of an applicant, which also contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of an applicant’s potential at a specific university.

It is time that elite institutions shift from categorizing student abilities based on a single number to holistically considering an individual’s full potential.

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