Why Standardized College Admission Tests Are Still Important


Guest Blogger

May 2, 2024

Content written by guest blogger, Michael Gao, CEO and Founder of Dewey Smart, a company dedicated to redefining college admissions.

In early February of this year, Dartmouth University shared an unexpected announcement: Moving forward, the prestigious institution would now be requiring the scores of standardized college admission tests in their applications. After nearly four years of test-optional applications – not just at Dartmouth, but across the country – the announcement was one of the first of its kind. But it wasn’t the last. 

Since then, more top schools have announced that they will once again require SAT or ACT scores from applicants, including:

The Path to Test-Optional

In 2020 and 2021, the shift to test-optional happened quite suddenly, primarily due to the pandemic preventing many then-rising seniors from taking their standardized college admission tests. Much like a set of dominos falling, the change was widespread and nearly unanimous. Almost all colleges and universities went test-optional. 

Many schools have adhered to this policy for the past few years. As a result, over the past four years, universities have had the opportunity to see how including SAT scores in admissions can affect the success of students at their schools.

Why Standardized Tests Are Needed Moving Forward

The data from the past four years has contributed to the understanding that consideration of SAT/ACT scores is important in the admissions process. 

As Dartmouth points out in its statement, standardized tests favor students from high socio-economic backgrounds. There is plenty of research to back up this finding.

However, recent research cited by Dartmouth also shows that these test scores serve as reliable predictors of student success. College GPA was predicted by SAT/ACT scores, not high school GPA.

Appreciating that standardized scores can serve as indicators of a student’s ability to learn content and apply ideas – key skills in both college and beyond – their value in the college admissions process becomes more understandable and apparent.

Creating a New Future Instead of Returning to the Past

A significant point that deserved to be made – and one that is being considered by schools like Yale, Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth – is that standardized college admission tests need to be put in context. As explored earlier, SAT skews toward those from high socio-economic status. It is best utilized to support students from all backgrounds when it is considered along with their specific circumstances.

This is elaborated upon more by Dartmouth in their statement, explaining why they will require standardized tests. They write, “in a test-optional system, many applicants don’t submit test scores. This disadvantages applicants from less-resourced families because Dartmouth admissions considers applicants’ scores in relation to local norms of their high school (so, for example, a 1,400 SAT score from an applicant whose high school has an SAT mean of 1,000 gives us valuable information about that applicant’s ability to excel in their environment, at Dartmouth, and beyond). In a test-optional system, Dartmouth admissions often misses the opportunity to consider this information.”

Similarly, Yale states that students can submit one or more of four different standardized college admission tests: ACT, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and SAT. They note on their website, “Yale’s test-flexible policy is designed to empower applicants to put their best foot forward. There is no perfect test, and no one-size-fits-all approach to demonstrating a student’s college readiness.”

College admissions are “holistic” and continue to be “holistic” by considering all these facets of circumstance – especially since beyond the ACT/SAT, there are many other aspects of college applications that are skewed against underserved students. For example, many activities like certain sports and instruments require specialized and expensive resources.

One could even make the case that the barrier to success in standardized testing is much lower than some other activities, including sports like swimming and gymnastics, or playing a musical instrument. If needed, standardized tutoring is easily available through online services and resources, while these other activities require more expensive resources such as in-person coaches.

What This Means for Prospective Students

Hopefully, this piece has convinced you that even when schools do not require the SAT, ACT, or other forms of standardized testing, taking the test and submitting a score can be beneficial to you. Moving forward, more schools will likely require these tests. 

From the perspective of a student, this emphasizes the importance of performing well on your standardized tests – and finding resources that can help you do so. Dewey Smart and its test preparation team are ready to support students as they prepare for these exams through one-on-one coaching. By identifying areas of improvement with their tutors, students can work toward higher standardized test scores that reflect their capabilities to colleges, setting themselves up for success in their college admissions process.

About the Author: Michael Gao is the CEO and Founder of Dewey Smart, a company dedicated to redefining college admissions. Dewey Smart and its novel near-peer model have assisted 1000+ students in test prep and college admissions. Dewey Smart and Holston Academy provide Future Readiness Support to students through personalized college admissions guidance from experienced coaches who have been through a successful college application process themselves.

Back to top