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What You Need to Know About Standardized Testing: 2018 Update

Testing scantron with pencil filling in answers.

Standardized testing is one of the most confusing pieces of the college application puzzle, and it looks like that is not going to change any time soon. We already have a dizzying array of questions to sort out:

  • SAT or ACT?
  • Do I need to take SAT Subject tests? If so, which ones?
  • When should I take my tests? How and when do I send my scores to colleges?
  • What is the difference between required and strongly recommended test scores?
  • Will colleges super-score my results (select and combine the highest section subscores from all sittings of either my SAT or ACT)?
  • Or even super-duper-score (select the highest subscores from across different types of tests such as the ACT and SAT)?
  • What’s the deal with “test-flexible” and “test-optional” admission policies?
  • And what about AP and IB scores?
  • Do they even factor into admissions decisions?

And just when we thought the testing landscape couldn’t get any messier and more complicated, it did! Here are just three of the latest changes in the last few months:

1.) SAT & ACT Essays not required

What happened: A whole bunch of colleges, including the entire Ivy League, Stanford, Duke, and the University of Michigan no longer require students to complete or submit the essay portion of the SAT or ACT.

What it means: Under 2% of colleges and universities in the US now require the ACT or SAT essay.

Why it happened: Partly due to some complicated problems with scoring them, the essays have factored into few admissions decisions in recent years. Also, many states now offer the ACT or SAT without the essay for free for all students on a school day, and colleges want students to be able to apply with those test scores, so they don’t have to pay to retake the test (with the essay) on their own.

What this means for you: Unless you are applying to any of the few colleges still requiring it you can skip the essay section, concentrate on the other sections, finish the test and go home earlier, and avoid the extra registration fee for the essay. And if you take the test for free at your school, you no longer have to spend time and money to retake it on a Saturday just to complete the essay section. Yay!

2.) Self-reporting test scores to colleges

What happened: Over the past year or so, some colleges have quietly started allowing students to report their standardized test scores directly to the them, rather than requiring official records to be submitted by the testing agencies.

What it means: For some colleges, students no longer have to pay the $12 (SAT) or $13 (ACT) to have their scores sent to each school they apply to.

Why it happened: To some thoughtful admissions people, it seemed wrong that, after students had already paid a fee (or jumped through hoops to get a fee waiver) to take the exam, they would have to pay again to submit their scores to colleges. And since students can only attend one college, they should only need an official score report for that one campus, not for each one they apply to.

What this means for you: You can report your scores in your college application, and only pay to have an official report sent to colleges which are not on this list. Once you commit to enroll, you will probably have to pay to have one official score report sent to the college you choose to attend.

3.) University of Chicago goes test-optional

What happened: The University of Chicago announced that it will no longer require its applicants to submit the SAT or ACT.

What it means: Although hundreds of other colleges have also dropped this requirement, including elite liberal arts colleges, this is first time one of the most highly regarded research institutions has made the move.

Why it happened: It is part of a larger initiative by the University of Chicago to remove barriers to admission that disproportionately affect low-income and first-generation students.

What this means for you: Of course, this is good news if you plan to apply to UChicago and your test scores are not as strong as the rest of your application! But the bigger deal is that some experts predict that other high-profile research institutions might now consider adopting a similar policy. Who could be next? Northwestern? Stanford? MIT? Stay tuned!

I hope you feel slightly less confused about the college admissions testing landscape, and particularly, recent news stories you may have encountered on the topic. There will be more changes to come but, luckily, I find this all fascinating and will be keeping close tabs on it!

Author Stephanie Meade

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