Standardized Tests: Love Them or Hate Them?

A Hampshire student in class

Love them or hate them, standardized tests have played a role in American education since the mid-1800s. Even then, educators disagreed about the value of standardized tests, and the debate continues today. College entrance exams—namely the SAT and ACT—are no exception.

The Rationale for Testing
Reliability and objectivity are cited as the primary motives for using standardized testing in college admissions. Proponents say these tests apply a common standard to all applicants, making it easier to evaluate and compare the academic-preparedness of students who attend different high schools, for example.

The Limitations of Testing
Opponents say that these tests are an unreliable method of measuring student performance and that testing can be unfair and discriminatory. Furthermore, they contend that that SAT and ACT do not measure characteristics that are important for higher learning including determination, a desire to learn, an interest in the greater good, a sense of adventure, or curiosity.

How do colleges use test scores?
Some don’t. FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, maintains a current list of colleges that don’t require the submission of any tests for undergraduate admission as well as a list of colleges that have “test-optional” or “test-flexible” application policies—an approach that de-emphasizes the use of standardized tests in the admission process. At present, there are more than 1,000 colleges and universities that fall into this category, including more than half of the CTCL-member schools.

Test scores are just one part of an application.
This is the message students will hear from the colleges and universities that do require the submission of test scores. Admission officers want to get a complete picture of who the applicants are to understand how they might succeed on their campus. In addition to test scores, they will look at high school transcripts—especially the classes taken and the grades earned—application essays, extracurricular interests, leadership development, and letters of recommendation.

Students have choices.
At CTCL, we believe the college search should be student-centered and reflect the student’s values. Some students believe a standardized test accurately reflects their knowledge and potential for academic success, while other students do not believe college admission tests will show their academic capability or promise. Still other students, regardless of how well they score, don’t want to be judged primarily on their test scores.

The importance of test scores in the admission process varies from college to college and depends on an institution’s admission approach and policies. Students should determine for themselves on what criteria they want to be judged and ask each admission office about their testing policies as well as other opportunities to present the “full picture” of themselves in the application.

Last but not least, regardless of which—if any—tests students take, keep it real: Get a good night’s sleep and remember that life (and college admission!) is about much more than a few hours spent filling in bubbles on a test.