In the world of college admission testing, we’re moving steadily towards a future in which testing takes on a very different look. In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed the existing ACT and SAT. Our goal was to help students and their parents make informed decisions when it comes to selecting and preparing for an upcoming exam. Today, part 2, we’ll examine some current trends in testing and consider how they may shape the future. But, first, we’ll take a look at another test that is occasionally used in the admission’s process.
Parents, you may remember sitting for the SAT IIs, currently known as the SAT Subject Tests. These 60-minute, subject-specific tests (languages, literature, history, sciences, math) used to be required by many colleges. No more. Now, only a handful of elite colleges require them, and only a few dozen institutions either recommend or consider them. For instance, Harvey Mudd, a top engineering school, requires its applicants to take the Math 2 Subject Test, as their admission team feels it’s a better predictor of success than the regular SAT math. Since fewer and fewer students are taking SAT Subject Tests, the College Board is recycling previous tests, leading to an increased risk of cheating and other testing fraud. Additionally, test averages are skewing higher (around 650 or above); therefore, it’s in a student’s best interest to submit only high scores, retaking tests as necessary to achieve this.
Will testing ever go away? There is a growing trend among many colleges and universities to go test optional (sometimes called test flexible), which allows students to decide whether or not to submit SAT or ACT scores. While most students still submit scores, this option gives students who struggle with testing another track to admission. As with SAT Subject Tests, if your student scores within or above a test optional college’s mid-50% range, don’t hesitate to submit standardized test scores. If your student chooses not to send scores, he or she will likely be evaluated with other students on this track, and other areas of the application may carry more weight, such as academic record. For a list of test-optional colleges, consult fairtest.org, and also carefully look at the website of any test-optional school to which your student may apply. It’s unlikely that testing will ever completely disappear, as these tests still serve a purpose, even at test-optional institutions. Merit-based scholarships are seldom awarded without test scores.
There are other interesting trends driving changes in testing. A notable one (and a huge plus to parents who have to pay around $10 per official score report) is the increase in the number of schools accepting self-reported scores instead of official reports sent directly from ACT or SAT. FSU, for example, asks students to self-report their scores on their applicant portal page, only requiring them to send an official score report if they receive an offer of admission and decide to attend.
Earlier in this post, we looked at how the SAT Subject Tests are slowly losing favor, and in last week’s post, we discussed the dwindling number of schools requiring the SAT or ACT essay. Driving this trend are the nine University of California schools. When they dropped the SAT Subject Test requirements in 2012, so did many other universities. Currently, UC is conducting an investigation into the essays, monitoring the state of the essay, and looking at internal data and correlations between essays and grades. They will evaluate the data for a year before making an evidence-based, faculty-driven decision on whether or not they will continue to require the optional essay. If UC drops the essay, it will likely lose relevance and disappear from the tests.
A few more comments are in order about what we might see in the years to come. While not much will change immediately in the world of college admission testing, there are some interesting possibilities on the horizon. As noted in our previous post, recent cheating scandals have led to greater scrutiny of testing security. While the College Board and the ACT have taken steps to further tighten testing, their recent steps still haven’t been enough to prevent recent issues, such as the cancellation of the October 2018 in-school ACT due to cheating concerns, or the controversy surrounding the August 2018 SAT, which was previously administered in Asia and consequently leaked. Computer-based testing (CBT) offers a solution to avoid such cheating scandals and may benefit students by offering them flexible testing dates and locations, along with an infinite set of adaptive test questions. The ACT has acquired AIG (automated item generation) technology to make this possible and indicates that their CBT system should be in place within three years. The SAT lags behind in this area, but given their recent fierce competition to regain the top testing spot, they will no doubt catch up.
This wraps up our two-part, in-depth exploration of recent developments and issues concerning college admission testing. Again, we thank our colleague Jed Applerouth of Applerouth Tutoring Services for generously sharing his insight and knowledge of this field.
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