In the wake of Covid-19, many colleges shifted to a “test optional” decision-making process for admissions. The idea relieved many students who either experienced difficulty accessing a testing session, or who experience test anxiety. Some students simply feel that standardized tests do not accurately reflect their abilities or efforts. Of course, those who perform well on standardized tests might actually have felt dismayed!
Relieved or not, many felt that these changes might merely be temporary adjustments in response to a difficult situation. But as we’re seeing with many other shifts in the ways we live and work, the end of standardized testing might actually be imminent.
The California Institute of Technology has announced that, rather than becoming “test optional,” they have decided to take an even more radical approach: Caltech has now gone “test free.” Other universities have already adopted the policy. Several University of California campuses, the California State University system, Washington State University, Reed College in Oregon, and Catholic in Washington, DC have all announced that they will no longer consider ACT and SAT scores as a part of their admissions process.
These are, by no means, noncompetitive schools. Caltech, for example, declines more than 90 percent of all applications they receive. Most students admitted in previous years had earned perfect or near-perfect scores on the math sections of the ACT or SAT. Instead, representatives say that the admissions team will focus on transcripts, essays, student activities, and teacher recommendations. Looking for raw talent and a certain personality, Caltech uses these clues to form an impression of a prospective student’s overall personality and ability. The school seeks to add quantitative thinkers, scientists, and researchers to their student body.
Proponents of “test free” or “test blind” admissions standards say that the policy creates more opportunity for deserving students. Even before the pandemic and testing difficulties, many believed that placing emphasis on test scores gave “privileged” students an upper hand, while keeping the underprivileged on an uneven playing field. Time will tell whether this hypothesis holds water. In the meantime, students should remember that grades, teacher relationships, strong writing skills, and meaningful extracurriculars have always carried weight, and will continue to do so in the future.