Test-Optional, Stress-Optional

More and More Colleges Forgo a Standardized Test Requirement for Admission

Isha Konety, staff writer

Testing season is upon us, however, the need for students to sit silently for three hours whilst taking a life-altering test is slowly decreasing, as more and more colleges have transitioned to test-optional programs. Much to the delight of many students, such admissions programs do not require applicants to submit standardized test scores—such as the SAT or ACT—as a part of their application.

Multiple colleges such as Bowdoin University, Wake Forest University, Bates College, Wesleyan University, and Skidmore College take part in this program. Although each of these schools accepts ACT and SAT scores, the admissions policy states that admissions officers are impartial to applications that contain them because of their holistic review process. Students are only encouraged to submit their scores if they feel that it will reflect their academic performance accurately.

By using test optional programs, colleges allow for students who do not have the financial means to take standardized testing to be considered in the admissions process; these colleges also allow for students who cannot afford test tutoring to be evaluated based solely on their grade point average. Furthermore, programs like these allow students to be less stressed because they are not required to focus on multiple methods of evaluation at one time. Such programs also allow for students to be evaluated based on their creativity, commitment, and personality—all aspects that are not captured by test scores.

Both the ACT and SAT average a cost of $46 per test, without essay, and $60 per test, with essay; an additional cost of $29.50 is fined for late registrations for both tests. Students typically take these standardized tests three times, meaning the cost of testing alone can be $138, without essays. If students seek to apply to selective schools such as Yale, Princeton, CalTech, or Dartmouth, they are required to submit a standardized essay score as well, raising the cost of testing to an average of $180. By requiring standardized tests and essays, schools make it significantly more difficult for applicants of a lower socioeconomic status to apply. Additionally, in order for students to improve their test score, they often must get tutored in preparation for the test. Group preparatory classes are usually $899 or more, while professional one on one tutoring, which is considered to be more effective, can be $100 or more per hour. A typical student will take five sessions of tutoring, adding on a cost upwards of $500. Furthermore, if students choose to use test books, they are looking to pay an average of $30 per book. Some students are unable to afford these costs, meaning that they are unable to stay on par with their colleagues who have the financial means to access these resources. As a result, they receive lower scores on their standardized tests, negatively impacting their chances of college acceptance.

Another byproduct of standardized testing is poor mental and physical health. According to Christina Simpson, a Research and Communications specialist at Global Family Research Project, students experience a higher sense of stress in regards to standardized testing as compared to low stakes testing. Simpson states that “a survey of school psychologists in New York’s public schools found that 76 percent of respondents feel that test anxiety is higher for state assessments than it is for local assessments.” A 2014 stress report by the American Psychological Association reveals that 83% of teens report school as a source for stress, while 69% report getting into a good college as a source of stress. As the pressure mounts on students to do well in school, extracurriculars, and testing, teens are more and more stressed about their academic progress. Because most schools that are ranked top 50 nationwide require standardized test scores, students experience extremely high pressure during testing season. This leads to multiple health problems among teens, especially for those in their final years of high school. Some of the most common symptoms of stress are stomach pains, depression, lack of sleep, and vomiting. The symptoms of stress in response to high stakes testing can cause students to neglect their school work and extracurricular activities; a drop in grades or performance can cause even more tension for students, further propagating the cycle of stress.

In addition to test anxiety, many students are faced with stress as a result of competition. Students feel a strong sense of competition among their peers in regards to standardized testing. During the junior year of high school, students frequently share test scores and grade point averages; at times, this can make individuals feel self-conscious. As Tom Poulis, former senior at University High School in Southern California, told NPR, “‘One of my friends,” Poulis said, “She just one day was like, ‘I’m tired of school….Tired of being in an environment that demands so much of you. And tired of an environment where the level of your character is determined by your SAT score.’” Students often feel that their intelligence is dependent on their test score, so they are inclined to lie about their score to impress their friends. Such feelings can also have harmful effects on the mental health of high school students.

Test-optional admissions provide students with a less stressful environment where they are able to define themselves by their personality as opposed to arbitrary numbers. By evaluating an applicant’s academic preparedness based solely on GPA, it gives admissions officers the leeway to consider an applicant’s other qualities—such as creativity, leadership skills, community involvement, and initiative—that are not captured by a test score. By using test scores as a method of evaluation, schools are only able to assess the speed at which a student can answer questions or a student’s ability to apply grammar rules to a written paragraph. Although these skills are necessary to excel in an academic environment, student’s should also be equipped with skills that will help them become successful employees, CEOs, leaders, and entrepreneurs. According to CNBC reporter Marguerite Ward, some of the most successful people exhibit traits of discipline and organization. Steven Benna, former writer for Business Insider, adds that many successful individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet display traits of creativity and focus. Traits such as these are imperceptible from standardized tests, rather one must look to other things such as awards, extracurriculars, and online presence to determine such facets of character. By eliminating the need for standardized testing, schools give admissions officers the opportunity to look to other methods of interpretation in order to assess an applicant’s competence, while still giving students the option to display additional academic excellence by submitting their test scores.

As the rate of college applicants rapidly increases, colleges are facing the challenge of differentiating between multiple qualified applicants each year. The burden in turn falls on the student as they strive to gain admission into the nation’s most competitive schools. However, we should not forget the detrimental effects that come along with such competition. From financial issues to health problems, the race to attend college is taxing on families. As colleges consider admissions reforms, they should examine the effects that testing can have on students. By examining score submissions on an optional basis, colleges allow for students of all backgrounds to apply. Such programs also expand the basis for evaluation, taking into account other aspects of performance, further equalizing the admissions process.