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Changes in Standardized Testing

Updated: Apr 3

With Yale, Dartmouth ,Brown and UT Austin all bringing back standardized testing requirements in one form or another we have received a number of calls from families who are increasingly focused on the tests and their importance.


While there are more schools requiring standardized tests, it is important to understand that most still do not and that last year at this time the focus was on Columbia, William and Mary and the NCAA dropping test requirements. We have believed that other schools would come back to standardized tests, following schools like Georgetown and MIT as a few years of test optional admissions data stacked up but we also still believe that most will still remain 'optional'.


Our current view is what it was last March. We continue to believe that many of the schools claiming to be test optional have not been with acceptance rates for students who have submitted tests dramatically higher than those that have not. Schools like Amherst, Emory, Notre Dame, and Boston College accept far higher percentages of students who submit standardized tests . On the other hand, it is important to note that many elite schools have truly not cared about standardized tests. When looking at the data from their most recent freshman classes, Swarthmore, Tufts, Claremont Mckenna and Vanderbilt stand out as schools that are truly agnostic. Freshman year enrollment data would suggest that schools like Brown and Dartmouth, who have returned to standardized tests ,were already factoring them into their admissions process, they were just not terribly transparent about their importance.


As we said last year, families are advantaged when they get their list of target schools together early, are able to learn if the schools they are focused on ‘care’ about the tests and therefore understand how much time their student should be spending on tests…if any at all. While there are reasons why testing will be more or less important for different types of applicants a simple look at the percentage of freshman class members who took the tests in the prior year says a great deal. We like to remind parents that students are busy and that spending time on an unnecessary test can do real damage as test preparation can get in the way of grades and other activities that might enhance the applicants resume.


From our standpoint what is new and interesting is Yale’s willingness to take all types of standardized testing to meet their requirement, including AP exams. Conversations with a number of other highly selective schools since Yale’s announcement leads us to believe that the tests getting more important are actually more likely to be core subject AP exams.


In a world of grade inflation where schools like Dartmouth struggle for benchmarks many schools tell us that AP exams are a better way to compare students than the SAT/ACT as they also capture student preparation in the core classes that many colleges require and build on.


The more important signal out of the recent announcements regarding standardized tests may be that AP exams are becoming more important and that students should look to take more of them earlier and strive for good results on the tests versus simply taking the course to build a more rigorous looking schedule or highlight a ‘passion’ subject. The test training business has long talked about the importance of AP tests in college admissions but with little to no supporting evidence and with a very easy to understand bias. It is also true that the most visible study of the impact of Advanced Placement tests on college enrollment , ‘Advanced Placement and Initial College  Enrollment : Evidence from an Experiment ‘ ( Congers, Long and McGhee ) concluded that AP courses , while raising student aspirations, did not increase enrollment at target institutions.  Nevertheless, our conversations lead us to believe things might be changing and that the gap between the relative importance of SAT/ACT versus AP/IB seen in NACAC surveys may be poised to shrink. In brief, when thinking about standardized tests as a tool for college admission, we would give the AP a longer look than the alternatives.



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