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Do Standardized Tests Measure Academic Success?

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Do standardized tests measure academic success?

Like it or not, standardized tests are here to stay. Even though there are test-optional schools that don’t require you to submit scores, most colleges still use them as a barometer when making admissions decisions.

However, a new study, released this past week, conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, shows that high school students with strong grades but lower test scores tend to do just as well in college as those who perform better on these tests.

Major findings

The study compared the academic performance of students who submitted test scores to 33 colleges and universities with those who didn’t. 30 percent of the 123,000 students in the research did not submit test scores when applying to the colleges. The report concluded that differences between GPAs and graduation rates between the ones who submitted scores and the ones who did not were less than one percent.

The study also showed that “Non-submitters were more likely to be first-generation college enrollees, all categories of minority students, women, Pell Grant recipients, and students with learning differences. But across institutional types, white students also use optional testing policies at rates within low single digits of the averages, so the policies have broad appeal across ethnic groups.”

Why consider test-optional schools?

There are close to 800 schools in this country that generally do not require applicants to turn in ACT or SAT scores for admission. Many are non-selective, but there are a significant number of liberal arts colleges that offer this option to students. According to FairTest.org, “Schools that have made standardized tests optional for admissions are widely pleased with the results. Many report their applicant pools and enrolled classes have become more diverse without any loss in academic quality. ‘Test score optional’ policies promote both equity and excellence.”

Students who score poorly on standardized tests often consider these colleges, which value their academic performance over their testing ability. Not every student tests well, even if they are exceptional students. Test-optional schools offer students who might feel they can’t apply to college because of their scores an opportunity to apply and be offered admission.

Is “test-optional” too good to be true?

When colleges announce they’re making standardized tests optional, they argue that standardized tests are incomplete scorecards on how a student will do in college. In some respects, it might be too good to be true. When colleges opt for this means of admission, the crush of applicants make colleges look more selective. Colleges who make the switch will naturally see an immediate upswing in applications which allows them to be more selective.

Not only do colleges appear to be more selective, many of the test-optional schools require test scores to apply for merit-based financial aid. Many question the reasoning behind this policy, arguing that if it’s truly test-optional, there should be no need to ask for test scores to award merit-based aid, which is usually based on academic achievement.

Why take the tests if they aren’t a good indicator of academic success?

All the studies in the world won’t change the fact that selective and many non-selective colleges look at standardized test scores when they review applications. Taking the test also gives you an idea of your academic strengths and weaknesses. A good test score will open up more possibilities when applying to colleges, especially to the selective ones.

It’s important to remember that standardized tests are not the only factor colleges use when considering you for admission. They will examine your GPA, essay, recommendations, and the classes you took in high school. These other factors are a good indication if you will be successful academically. But there is no substitute for hard work, studying, and applying yourself when you get to college. All types of high school students—poor, average, or excellent—have the potential to excel in a college environment.

For a complete list of test-optional schools, visit the FairTest website.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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