Commentary: More Than a Score

H.Wadell/The Phillipian

Getting  a 1600 on the SAT is something that ranks highly on an Andover student’s bucket list. The superficial importance and prestige of the SAT lingers to this day, deeply rooted in our perception of the college application culture. Recently, however, this trend has begun to shift. It seems to me that this type of testing does not serve to accurately predict a student’s success in college and proves to be a disservice to the underprivileged community it’s supposedly meant to help.

New studies reveal staggering results about the nature of these standardized tests. A 20 year study led by Bates College admissions dean, William Hiss​, ​found that the graduation rates between those that submitted standardized test scores and those that didn’t was 0.1 percent, a negligible difference. Another interesting point in Hiss’s study was that after Bates College made testing optional, more women, U.S. citizens of color, international students, students from lower income families, and those with learning disabilities applied. Hiss’s study showed that there was a real shift in diversity with the removal of standardized testing. In this case, the SATs and ACTs actually serve a deterrent to minorities applying to college. 

Eric J. Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania has also weighed in on the topic—while he considers test scores and G.P.A. an important part in admission decisions, Furda asks his admissions team to reflect on an applicant’s “relative growth and trajectory,” which is what a student did with the opportunities presented to him or her in high school. With that, many students do not have the resources to be tutored/trained in standardized testing preparation. This idea that there is a wide discrepancy in opportunities available to students has been acknowledged by many schools as more than 1,000 colleges have dropped standardized testing all together as an admissions requirement, among them, selective schools like University of Chicago, Wesleyan College, Wake Forest, Bowdoin College and George Washington University, according to The Huffington Post.

To combat this phenomenon, both the SAT and ACT have tried to innovate their test content.

For instance, the new test removed obscure vocabulary, has fewer questions, and asks students to explain their answers, which avoids those painful ‘educated’ guesses. The Board hopes that the current tests will also discourage the need for prepping at expensive test centres and partnered with Khan Academy, to help students with testing fundamentals. I favor the steps college board is taking to make the SAT test more inclusive for all, and their effort not to favor students who can afford test prep. Though it remains to be seen how all of these changes really make a difference in practice. Most of my peers still seek out expensive test prep and consider it the only way to succeed.

In 2016, due partly to the overhaul of the SAT and changes with the ACT, 80 colleges looked to a Harvard University report that called for a change in how students were admitted and their main intent was to make test scores less significant. Personally, I think this is a move in the right direction. While the SAT and ACT remain relevant as a ‘standardized’ way to evaluate applicants from different academic backgrounds, students have so much more to contribute to a college experience than test scores. More emphasis should be placed on a student’s efforts towards music and sports, community service, and a commitment to subjects not just shown by grades but a genuine interest backed by teacher recommendations and a portfolio of work. I am convinced that less weight on standardized testing will motivate students to take better ownership of their own learning journey in high school and it looks like more and more colleges agree with me.

Miraya Bhayani is a two- year Lower from Singapore. Contact the author at

Feb 1, 2019