Test Optional… It’s About Time!

I don’t know about any of you, but the standardized testing that monstrously consumed my junior year of high school was absolutely miserable. The trauma of this dark time in my life still lingers today! There’s just no way for a bad test taker like me to truly showcase all of my capabilities on that one booklet on that one Saturday morning. I personally feel that a numerical score should not define people in the eyes of college admissions workers. Can the ACT and SAT truly gauge college readiness?act-sat

While the SAT and ACT are structured in different ways, they attempt to measure the same thing: aptitude. This Washington Post article delves deeper into the idea of “aptitude” in terms of standardized testing. The SAT, which formerly stood for “scholastic aptitude test,” was created with the intent to test college readiness. Basically, creating questions that would evoke the use of academic concepts and logical skills that would be necessary to succeed in college. However, they eventually dropped this acronym when they discovered that aptitude is more than just problem solving or the memorization of facts. So… what is aptitude?


Aptitude is intelligence, as one of the most important indicators of college readiness is the ability to obtain good grades and graduate. According to a longitudinal observational study discussed in this PBS News article, standardized tests are not able to properly measure this necessary signal for success. Bates College, an institution that has decided to go “test optional” (meaning it isn’t mandatory to report your test scores), followed a group of students who did submit their scores and a group of students who abstained from sharing their scores through their four years. Throughout their journey, they compared the two group’s GPAs. Finally at graduation, it was discovered that the GPA’s of the test submitters were only a mere .05 percent of a GPA point higher than the students who didn’t report their scores. Therefore, this study shows that a test score cannot sufficiently measure intelligence, at least in terms of grades. With a scientific mindset, this would make sense. In science, the more random samples that are taken, the more accurate the consensus will be. Thus, we would expect a GPA, which is basically an accumulation of samples over the course of four years, to be more reflective of a score sampled from one day of someone’s life.

Aptitude is motivation. In order to succeed in college, it’s imperative to be self-driven. However, this PrepScholar blog sheds light on a critical downfall in the ability of standardized test to gauge someone’s proficiency to persevere. The blog asks, how would a college admissions worker determine the kid who got a high score naturally from a kid who worked hard to achieve their high score? This is a very important question that reveals the dark truth of how general a test score really is. A student’s motivation, work ethic, time management, and even creativity are all unaccounted for in a simple number. These are qualities that a college should be looking for, in my opinion and in the opinion of many universities that have decided to go “test optional.” Yes, it is very possible for the naturally high scoring kid to also possess these redeeming qualities, but the test score doesn’t definitely insure that. Therefore, test scores are not the most ideal way to measure the determination aspect of aptitude that would indicate college readiness.

Finally, a confounding variable to high performance in test scores could be resources, which could distort the aptitude conveyed in the score. There has been an extreme amount of scientific and statistical analysis on the correlation between family income and test scores, which is based on the assumption that tutoring or other test taking resources put higher income students at an unfair advantage. This New York Times article accumulated research from various studies to produce the graph shown to the right. allscoresThe findings clearly illustrate a strong positive correlation between family income and test scores, as the highest income bracket in math for example scored 122 points higher than the lowest income bracket. The New York Times also reported that the R-squared value of the study was about .95, which is extremely significant. For anyone unfamiliar with statistics, the  R-squared value tells how much of the variance in test scores is attributed to family income. Therefore, the fact that this number is as high as 95% is evidence of a close correlation between test scores and family income.
In all, the science screams that standardized testing is not a sufficient way to measure college readiness. While there must be some method to the madness because smart people who get good test scores do usually succeed in college, science tells us that there is always the possibility to revise a former theory no matter how much time it has stood before. Personally, I’m excited to see what the future holds in a “test optional” world in terms of developing more holistic measurements to better assess the capability of an individual to succeed in college.

10 thoughts on “Test Optional… It’s About Time!

  1. Tyler Mitchell Azar

    As I’m sure many more people would agree, I hated the SATs when I was in high school. I completely agree with you that there are infinite ways to measure someone’s intelligence, and basing their ability to be accepted into a good college mostly on one way seems ridiculous. You make a good point in bringing up the confounding variable of resources to show that standardized tests have at least some bias attached to them. They say they strive to make the tests unbiased, but it would be impossible to 100% do away with it. I’ve been very pleased to see some universities start making test scores optional. Overall, grades in school, extracurricular activities, and other factors are just as important as test scores, if not more so. Great job!

  2. Angela Maria Napolitano

    I have always, always hated standardized tests. I nearly always did well on them, I just hated having to sit there for hours at a time trying to remember every little detail my teachers had crammed on the white board during class. I really do believe that standardized tests are not a valid way to gauge a student’s intelligence. While some students may thrive in a classroom environment and find it easy to succeed on tests formatted the way that standardized tests are, others may find themselves struggling no matter how hard they try. My older sister and brother, for example, are both highly intelligent people. However, my brother has always been much better at book-smart things. He aced tests, he became an engineer. My sister has always been very street-smart. She can think critically, but she was horrible in school. She did not do well on standardized tests. This shouldn’t mean that she’s categorized as “less intelligent” simply because her scores are lower. Here is an article that talks about a bunch of ways standardized testing is bad:

  3. Liz Galante

    I can honestly say, and although many people would disagree, I do not think there is anything more unfair than standardized test. I do agree that is is fair that everyone in the country is given the same test and one isn’t easier than another but then again, how is fair that one test could determine your whole college career when you have hundreds of tests that you study for weekly throughout your four years of high school. When applying to colleges, I applied to many test optional schools because of how unhappy I was with my scores. Colleges going test optional is the best thing they can do in my opinion.

  4. Jordan Smith

    I agree that standardized tests are not the best way to test a student’s understanding of a subject. Standardized testing is extremely outdated. It became popular back in World War 1. The world has changed so much since then. Testing a student’s knowledge needs to be revamped in a way that is more reflective of today’s society. Utilizing technology in more inventive ways would be a good start. But overall, the education system needs to catch up. Here are a few more reasons why standardized tests are utterly ineffective in today’s day and age.

  5. Hannah Gluck

    I loved reading this blog because like many other people I can totally relate. I do not believe that a standardized tests can show someones best work. How can one test show someones readiness for college? That doesn’t seem to make much sense for me? My older sister had dyslexia which makes test taking very difficult for her and I watched her struggle through her junior year constantly retaking the ACT’s because her scores did not reflect her true ability. She ended up applying to mostly test optional schools because her scores were not representative of her skills. By the end of the whole process she ended up at a great school, Purdue University, because they were test optional. Also the stress that these huge tests put kids often times make them do worse because of all the pressure that is put on them. Overall I think something needs to be done about the standardized testing for colleges. Schools shouldn’t be worried about what a student got on this one test they should be worried about there grades in school or their personal essay.

  6. Mary M. Brown

    Hannah, this blog is amazing! I’ve been thinking for a long time that standardized testing is an inaccurate way to measure the intelligence of any student, especially because some students with 4.0 GPA’s get nowhere near perfect on their SAT’s or ACT’s. I think it’s so accurate of you to say that aptitude is motivation. The best students, the ones that work the hardest, are the ones who have the motivation to stay on top of things and get their work done. Here is an interesting article that explains the reasoning behind colleges going test optional.

  7. jgb5274

    Your blog really caught my attention because I am definitely not a great test taker. It does not mean I don’t study or pay attention in class, I get distracted easily and talk myself out of the right answers because I second guess myself. It is also hard to be tested on a range of everything learned in high school rather than specified material. I completely agree with the idea of test-optional schools because there are too many cofounding variables for everyone to have an equal chance at doing well on standardized tests whether students take tutoring classes (which, can be extremely expensive and unaffordable), or if they have ADD or ADHD or just get easily distracted after multiple hours of testing.

  8. Isaac Chandler Orndorff

    Good article! My only advice would be to find sources on scholarly articles and not PBS or the New York times. I made that mistake last blog period and my grade suffered for it. Use Google Scholar to find good sources. This question is something that I think we all asked while we went through the SAT’s, what even is the point of this? I feel as though I wasted my time going through the test twice, but it probably gave me a better scholarship due to me getting a good grade. However, it may be biased to kids who can afford practice SAT exams and SAT prep over those who can barely afford to take the test once. Recently, more liberal arts colleges have been getting away from the SAT’s and ACT’s, instead focusing on write in’s and scores. This may be something we see more of in the future.

  9. Savannah Stalnaker

    I grew up with and continue to struggle with ADHD today, and these standardized tests were absolutely awful for me. I took all advanced classes and got only A’s and B’s up until my senior year. I was extremely close to being salutatorian! Despite all of this, I did extremely poorly on my SAT, and that score kept me from going to my first college of choice.

    Children with ADHD have been proven to not test well. Sitting down for hours in the same room with one task with little to no breaks is possibly the worst environment for a child with ADHD to work in. Children with ADHD produce much better work if they are able to take breaks every hour or so, get up and move around, maybe eat a snack.

    This also proves why students with ADHD, despite whether or not they test poorly, do far better in college. I no longer have to sit at a desk for eight hours with no breaks in between. The five minuet “breaks” between each class were barely enough time to get to my next class, let alone let my brain actually stop spinning. College classes are actually interesting, and there is so much more freedom in what classes they can take. People with ADHD can take classes they’re passionate about, and even if they dislike a certain subject, there are still so many more options other than three English classes of varying difficulties, which actually just boils down to the same lesson with just different amounts of homework.

    So not only does income affect children’s performance and show the flaws of standardized testing, children who have learning disorders such as ADHD have been proven to do just fine in college while they also fail to test well. Standardized tests are in no way a good way to gauge how children may do in college for so many reasons.

  10. Pedro de Mello

    I’m from Brazil, and down there we have what’s called the ENEM, or Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (National High School Exam), which is basically a 2-day, 180 questions long test on every single subject covered in high school, from Physics to Sociology, with an essay-writing component thrown in as well. This was designed to ensure every high-schooler in the country is tested on the same basis, in this case academic performance (but that in reality is more like memorisation skill).
    While this doesn’t really give every student in the country the same opportunity at success because education in Brazil is opposite to the US (paid elementary and high school, free college), meaning less fortunate youths mostly can’t afford a high school education, I feel this is roughly the type of testing that could and most certainly should replace the ACT and the SAT here.
    As a high school education is pretty much guaranteed to everyone interested in learning in the US, the tests designed to test their academic proficiency could be so much more than just Maths, Science and English. Students could be tested on critical thinking, logic, creativity, and more, far surpassing simple essay writing. I feel this is what high school testing should prepare a student for, not memorising word definitions, mathematical formulas or scientific principles. They should be tested on their capacity to learn, not on the (mostly) useless stuff they only half paid attention to in school because it isn’t interesting in the slightest.
    Most schools still follow the same old 20th century idea that a good student knows Aristotle, Shakespeare and Mark Twain, can do Maths and knows how the cell gets its energy. This is not what education should be about. It should be about knowing how to solve problems and reflect on trends. The Greeks were doing it two and a half thousand years ago, and they’re regarded as the fathers of Western knowledge. A new world calls for a shift in paradigm, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later.

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