New Trend: Test Optional (SATs and ACTs May Not Be Required)

Research reveals the inequities of college admissions testing.

Posted Dec 03, 2019

"I’m very much in favor of doing away with the SAT and ACT as a requirement for application." —Carol Christ, UC Berkeley Chancellor

Most intelligent adults recognize that standardized tests do one thing: They measure how well a student has learned how to take a test. Said differently, these tests (ACTs and SATs) are not valid indicators of how well a young man or woman is going to do in their higher education studies, or what type of success they may have in life. 

So why do we still use them? This is the bigger question and one that many institutions of higher education are answering. More and more schools are becoming “test-optional,” such as the University of Chicago and the College of Colorado, as examples.

Research Shows

Consistently, research indicates that the ACT and SAT tests favor students from higher-income brackets, certain racial backgrounds, and parents with advanced education. This puts students from lower-income brackets, those who are different learners, and those who may be bilingual (or learning English) at a big disadvantage, as examples. Take, for example, the high school student whose parents pay for a private tutor, provide test preparation materials, and pay for their daughter to retake the test if needed. This is in stark contrast to the high school student with a job (yes, some still have those) who needs to save his money to pay for his one shot at the SAT.

The basic fact is that the SAT and ACT unfairly favor students from higher-income brackets and certain racial or socioeconomic backgrounds.

In October, California Governor Newsom recently vetoed a bill that would have used the ACT and SAT in lieu of the 11th-grade accountability exam now provided. In his message, he explained how these standardized tests “exacerbate the inequities for underrepresented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.”


Over 40 percent of colleges are now “test-optional,” which indicates they don’t require the ACT or SAT, but many still encourage students to take them. In an EdSource article, Carol Christ was formerly President of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she made SAT and ACT scores optional. She stated, “As a result of that, we did not only have a more diverse class, but our average SAT score went way up.” From my perspective, the world we live in is a very diverse place and helping our educational institutions reflect and value that diversity is important.

The other important point is that by not requiring these standardized tests, there is less stress on the student, which can result in more positive outcomes.

The University of California is the latest school with 10 campuses and over 280,000 students to consider the test-optional path. They are facing increasing pressure to do so with the expectation of an upcoming lawsuit, which would demand their nine undergraduate campuses stop using the ACT and SAT as part of the required admissions process, due to the inequities to which they may contribute. Currently, UC has a special task force to make recommendations in early 2020, and if they go the test-optional route, it is believed many other schools may follow.  

To Test or Not to Test

Education needs to work for everyone, which it currently does not. The review of ACTs and SATs as fair measurements to be required by potential applicants is a good starting point. Of course, it’s just the beginning to ensure that all students have equal access to higher education, to which creating the most equitable college admissions process can contribute to. But again, this is simply one piece of a larger puzzle that needs to be solved regarding fair and equitable access to higher education.


US News (November 23, 2019)

USA Today (November 26, 2019)

The Washington Post (November 6, 2019)

EdSource (November 25, 2019)