Make Standardized Testing Mandatory Again

Make Standardized Testing Mandatory Again

On February 5th, Dartmouth College announced that all future applicants would, once again, be required to submit standardized test scores. And just yesterday, Yale announced that they would implement a similar policy for their Class of 2029. Dartmouth’s reason was simple: the university conducted a study on the impact of its test-optional policies and discovered they were counterproductive. They found that test scores are the best single predictor of academic performance—better than high school grades, essays, or teacher recommendations—and that they are particularly indicative for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Even more surprising, going test-optional did not lead to a more diverse pool of applicants.

This step should come as no surprise to anyone in elite academia for the last four years. The SAT and ACT are designed to test basic, 10th-grade level math and reading concepts under timed conditions to determine aptitude. While critics have derided these tests for mirroring societal inequalities, the role of these tests is to gauge academic readiness for college. Universities’ recent effort to remedy educational inequality by eliminating tests only paints over the underlying problem. 

Stanford must follow Dartmouth’s lead and revive standardized testing as a mandatory factor for applications in order to promote meritocracy and fairness. Out of all the metrics in the college admissions process, standardized tests are undoubtedly the most objective. GPA varies wildly between high schools, with grade inflation making it less predictive of academic success over time. Extracurriculars can easily be padded through the use of monetary resources. Creating a charity for basket-weaving dancers in Bangladesh, or whatever the extracurricular trend of the year is, requires no true intelligence or drive but rather resources and clued-in advisors. The same logic applies for the vapid and inane essays that schools ask students to churn out: The wealthy can easily hire a college consultant charging hundreds of dollars an hour to write a refined, 250-word piece about your “favorite word” or preferred way to eat a potato.

While test prep companies and fraudulent academic accommodations do exist, at the end of the day, all students who take the SAT or ACT are compared on an objective, uniform scale and take the same test under identical conditions, making it the fairest portion of the college application process. In fact, the Dartmouth study noted factors often used in place of test scores, such as guidance counselor recommendations, did not predict college success and actually ended up favoring wealthy students.

The evidence has long shown that standardized test scores are not only good predictors of college grades, but also of the likelihood of graduation and career success thereafter. So why have most elite universities, including Stanford, not followed in the footsteps of Dartmouth, Yale, and MIT?

The answer is simple: “Test-optional” policies give top universities more leeway to shape their classes to institutional needs by providing a larger pool of viable candidates. This fact is uncomfortable; it does not fit in the progressive DEI notion that everyone who gets in is completely qualified and deserving of their spot. However, we must address this unpleasant truth if there is any hope of reforming college admissions.

Test-optional rules allow elite universities to choose applicants who fit the the “correct” categories—whether they be an athlete for a niche sports team, a player of an obscure instrument, a wealthy international student who will pay full price, or the children of alumni and donors—to bypass the bare minimum academic standards that testing is meant to establish. Although Dartmouth and Yale may have had more flexibility to shape their admissions processes, they also likely realized that testing was a necessary, uniform gauge of academic performance which couldn’t be accurately emulated by a slew of other subjective factors which favor the affluent.

At a hyper-elite school such as Stanford, which receives roughly twenty-five applicants per available spot, mastering basic trigonometry and algebra alongside reading comprehension within a time limit should be a baseline standard for all students. When we exempt applicants from this standard, we dilute the value that our university confers by accepting students who simply are not prepared to handle a rigorous university experience.

It is no surprise that test-optional admissions have been advocated by special-interest groups such as the NCAA, undoubtedly to allow otherwise unqualified athletes into top schools. In our anecdotal experience, well-connected but academically lackluster students who fit into special categories have slid into top universities by puffing up their extracurriculars and essays, despite lacking the intellectual horsepower needed to earn competitive ACT or SAT scores. As the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal showed, no matter how wealthy families are, the fundamental aptitude needed to do well on standardized tests cannot be purchased, unlike every other aspect of the college admissions process.

Aside from the empirical case for the efficacy of standardized tests and their potential to empower talented yet disadvantaged candidates to distinguish themselves, there exists the simple moral truth that universities should aspire to be meritocratic—to reward people for their effort. When there are clear rules that apply to everyone, we can agree on a system’s fairness. But when outcomes are based on gameable metrics, people perceive the system to be rigged, and rightly so. 

While standardized testing is not and should not be the heart of a student’s application, reimplementing it as mandatory would hold every candidate to the same baseline standard that all successful applicants should meet for a school as exclusive as Stanford. It is time for meritocracy to once again reign at the Farm.

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