10 February 2024
Dartmouth College, the Ivy League university in New Hampshire, announced last week that it will again require standardized tests from applicants.
American students who wish to attend Dartmouth starting in the fall of 2025 will need to send SAT or ACT scores with their applications. Students from other parts of the world will need to submit results from "an equivalent standardized national exam," according to Dartmouth.
The university suspended its consideration of standardized tests for four years. In 2020, Dartmouth and many other American universities entered a "test-optional" period, which officials said was because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why did the schools go "test optional?"
Starting in the spring of 2020, schools increasingly stopped holding in-person classes. That made it difficult for students to prepare for and gather to take standardized tests.
Many universities used the "test-optional" period to find out what would happen if they no longer required the SAT and ACT. Years before, a few studies said that the tests favored wealthy students.
Nat Smitobol is with IvyWise, a company that offers college admissions advice in New York City. Smitobol said universities want a diverse group of students and were not sure they were getting enough of them by looking at standardized tests.
Dartmouth said it looked at its group of accepted students after four years. It found the test optional policy increased the number of applications but made it harder to find the best students. The university said it discovered standardized test scores were "a valuable element of Dartmouth's undergraduate application."
In addition, the university said the tests expanded its ability to "identify talent." That means the tests made it easier for Dartmouth to find good students who do not come from rich families or wealthy high schools.
Dartmouth joins Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as top schools again requiring standardized test scores.
Currently, Yale University in Connecticut, Harvard University and Duke University in North Carolina still permit students to apply without test results. They are all highly selective schools.
But some experts wonder if those schools will follow Dartmouth.
Students still take the test even if optional
Smitobol at IvyWise said most students still take the SAT or ACT. But he said most do not understand that they can still apply to schools such as Dartmouth even if their scores are a little low. An average SAT score is 1050 while 1600 is perfect.
"There's kids that won't break 1000 that can absolutely do the work at a Penn (University of Pennsylvania) or a Harvard or any of these places, there's no doubt about it."
Smitobol said a student with good grades who is an immigrant, or whose parents did not go to college, should almost always submit their test scores.
"If you score a 1400 or above and you're the first in your family to go to college, that would be an astronomical score," he said.
"And really, quite frankly, that's way more impressive than a 1550 from a student, you know, like from an affluent background."
Many students, however, say they like the freedom of choosing whether to send their scores to other schools.
Better things to do than take a test
Renee Bischoff is the Director of College Counseling at Hawken School, a high school near Cleveland, Ohio. She said she has some students who are good at lots of things: theater, sports, leadership activities, teaching younger students or performing community service, but they are not good at taking standardized tests.
If they choose to apply to a college that does not need a test score, they can put their energy into other things. She said some students were taking tests five times in an effort to raise their scores.
"I will say to them, ‘you know what?' You shouldn't spend the extra time. Don't spend the money. Don't spend your Saturday."
"Focus your time on doing the things that are deeply meaningful to you and work hard in school. That will be the leading thing and the testing isn't required, so let's not spend all our time and money on that."
Barry Maloney is the president of Worcester State University in Massachusetts. He wrote an opinion piece for the Telegram & Gazette, a local newspaper, about test optional admission. For colleges like his, he wrote, a student's grades are "the best predictor" of their success.
"If a standardized test is something you don't want to take for admission...for any reason...you simply don't need to," he wrote.
Christiana Kalokoh is a senior at Annandale High School in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. She was born in the African nation of Sierra Leone and moved to the U.S. as a girl.
She was accepted to a number of colleges already but did not send her test scores.
She said she tried her best on the tests, but she felt intimidated and confused. She did not take a test preparation class like some students.
However, Kalokoh has done well in school and taken part in many clubs and activities. She has a job to help support her family. She is the president of her school's Bible study club and takes part in heritage night, where she teaches people about her country.
The importance of hope
Kalokoh said she liked the fact that she could still get into a good college without doing well on the tests.
"It gives me a sense of peace knowing that if I were to study my hardest and try my best and still maybe not get such a great score, it wouldn't completely ruin my chances of getting into that college."
She applied to the University of Virginia and James Madison University and did not send her test scores. She will find out if she has been accepted later this spring.
Laura Wells is the AVID program coordinator at Annandale. The program identifies students who could do well in college, but they need extra support in order to succeed in more difficult classes.
The program also gives extra help and direction on college applications.
Wells helps students such as Kalokoh, who were not born in the U.S., or whose parents do not speak English.
Wells said her students usually have trouble with the tests. But the ones who get "straight A's," the very top grades, go on to do well in college.
Even if top schools require test scores, she said it is important that other schools remain test optional. The students she works with still need to believe they can go to a good college. For her, such schools in Virginia include the University of Virginia (UVA) and Virginia Tech.
"I do hope that schools like, you know UVA, Virginia Tech, still choose to be test optional because otherwise, it is really hard, I think, for students to kind of see themselves at those schools. They can accept the fact that they might not get into Dartmouth or Georgetown or Johns Hopkins or something, right? But you should have a shot at being able to go to your top-ranked state school. Yeah, that's what I think, anyway."
I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Caty Weaver.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
standardized test –n. tests taken by large numbers of students that are meant to measure their general knowledge and compare it to other students
applicant –n. a person who is submitting applications for entry into a school or college
equivalent –adj. something that is different in small details but is more or less equal to something else
diverse –adj. involving many different kinds of people
talent –n. people who have valuable abilities and knowledge
mean –n. a value that has an equal number of values above it and below it
astronomical –adj. an extremely high value
affluent –adj. having a large amount of money or property
focus –v. pay attention or put time into something
intimidated –adj. made fearful by something
confused –adj. unsure and not able to make a clear decision
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