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Test Optional: Blessing or Curse?

Standardized-testing has recently been under debate of whether or not it is actually a good metric of student aptitude and achievement. With recent trends of teaching to the test, expensive standardized test preparation courses, and test fees, it has become more and more evident that standardized test scores are only a metric of opportunity and affluence.

Given the disruption to learning and standardized testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have opted to go test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Now, many are extending this precedence to future cycles as well. However, it is also important to recognize that there are schools that have been test-optional prior to this pandemic, most notably the University of Chicago. But what does this mean for college admissions: will this be helpful or a hindrance. To explore this topic from both sides, we must analyze a variety of arguments.

Obviously given the pandemic scenario, the test-optional policy is very necessary. In some locations, students faced cancellation after cancellation of SAT and ACT tests. In addition, international students faced additional barriers to accessing standardized test opportunities. In these cases, the test-optional policy has been extremely beneficial, ensuring that students who did not have the chance to take the test are not penalized.

Another rationale as to why the test-optional policy can be helpful is that many factors impact standardized testing and it is only a metric of your performance for three hours on one day in your high school career. It is not a comprehensive measurement of your academic abilities. Standardized testing has also fallen victim to “teaching to the test” where students are not actively trying to learn new material, but, instead, attempt to find shortcuts and only learn the skills necessary to perform well on these exams.

Moreover, bright students may suffer from test anxiety or are unable to showcase their academic strengths through a grueling multiple-choice test. Because there is so much uncertainty about what an SAT or ACT score can tell us, many, even the schools themselves, may benefit from its diminished importance in current admissions cycles.

Opponents to the test-optional policy argue that standardized testing is one of our only mechanisms of evaluating academic performance in a standardized manner, which is very much true. While GPA attests to academic performance, schools have different rigor levels and weighing standards which means that it can be hard to compare applicants as some may suffer from GPA inflation and others GPA deflation. The elimination of a testing requirement leaves admissions officers with less to determine whether a student should be admitted.

Similarly, for students who may have had a few bad grades or taken very rigorous courses, standardized testing would help to showcase their academic prowess. They may be able to perform very well on testing, yet, due to the test-optional policy, the importance of their score is deemphasized. In addition, for students who may not have many extracurricular activities, this leaves their application looking bare.

Finally, for certain schools, test scores are necessary to evaluate scholarship awardees. A test-optional policy means that some applicants may not qualify for necessary financial rewards. The price of attending university and receiving a bachelor’s degree has increased substantially, and, thus, scholarships are an important part of being able to fund education.

Altogether, it is evident that test-optional admissions cycles have their benefits and drawbacks. It is important to consider both sides and evaluate the consequences of this decision. Despite this, students can still opt to send in scores, and it would be highly recommended if they are within the college’s test score range. Given this monumental move, many universities may choose to stay test-optional for good. Until we finish the next few testing cycles this is merely speculation but food for thought.

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