ACT and SAT, Still Worth Taking?

Find out why so many universities and colleges have gone ACT/SAT optional lately, and how that affects the application process.

Find out why so many universities and colleges have gone ACT/SAT optional lately, and how that affects the application process.

Piper Kearney

Find out why so many universities and colleges have gone ACT/SAT optional lately, and how that affects the application process.

Each year high schoolers across the country begin the grueling task of applying to college. But as the world changed in the last few years, the U.S. college admissions process has changed too. Many universities have begun the transition to no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores. Which begs the question, is taking these tests still worth it? 

For years millions of students have used the SAT and ACT to demonstrate their academic knowledge and readiness for college. But following the Covid-19 pandemic, more high schoolers than ever struggled to get access to such tests. As a result, it’s become a recent trend among universities and colleges throughout the nation to revoke the requirement that students must send in their test scores.

Like many other schools, Harvard University attributed its removal of the test requirement due to limited access to SAT and ACT testing sites during the pandemic. Harvard adds that standardized tests are only one factor among many others considered, accomplishments in and out of the classroom play an important role in the admissions process, according to Harvard admissions.

Many schools in Iowa have followed suit, including the University of Iowa, Grinnell College, and Iowa State University, to name a few. Most colleges making this change state that they believe other aspects of the admissions process are equally, or more important than standardized testing. 

We believe that the ACT test is one of [the] multiple measures of student success and should be used alongside grades and extracurriculars to evaluate the whole student,” states Christina Gordon.

Gordon works in strategic communications for the ACT. She explains that ACT believes test scores are only part of a college’s assessment of students. There’s a vast variety of criteria that students are evaluated on, whether they submit test scores or not.

A large majority of schools that have transitioned to test-optional applications in recent years have done so in hopes of opening more doors to a more diverse group of students. Historically, kids from lower-income backgrounds have scored lower on standardized tests than kids from higher-income backgrounds. This is because many wealthier students have access to a surplus of tutoring, practice tests, retakes, etc., leading to a higher score than students who can only afford to take these tests once with limited preparation beforehand. 


“[A test-optional policy] will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income households,” states Laurie Koehler of George Washington University. 

This plan appears picture-perfect at first glance, but critics argue that going test-optional doesn’t necessarily equate to better opportunities for marginalized groups. Will it result in a more diverse applicant pool? Sure. But whether those students are actually going to get in is an entirely different question. 

Not only does ACT and SAT both offer students free practice tests, study guides, and test prep, but they also can help lower-income students get access to financial and merit-based aid once taking the test. This puts to question if test-optional policies are really the call for diversity that they claim to be. 

“The ACT test doesn’t create America’s education inequalities—it helps reveal them. To solve these problems, we need to address the root causes, not dismiss the tools that help us understand them,” Gordon says. 

Looking from the perspective of a student at Liberty, Delaney Ball, junior, has taken the ACT twice and the SAT once. Overall she said her experience taking the tests falls somewhere between a negative and positive one. 

“I had the biggest headache ever after taking those tests. They’re so long and exhausting… I definitely think things like that could affect someone’s scores on them,” Ball describes.

 She recognizes that it’s not a very comfortable environment, especially considering how long the tests are, usually between two and three hours with few breaks. She found that the draining hours alone made it harder for her to focus, and she felt herself getting bored mid-test. These issues lead many people to wonder whether ACT and SAT tests are accurate measurements of knowledge when considering that test-taking ability varies among every single student. 

Delaney also comments on the accessibility of the tests, “I had to go to Regina for one of my tests, which isn’t that far. But another was around an hour away. I think it’d be better if more people could take it at their own schools, so more people could have access to them.”

Ultimately, Delaney says she does plan on submitting her scores when she applies to college even as more schools are going test-optional nowadays. She figures that there’s a chance not submitting them could lessen her chances of getting into the schools she wants, whereas she loses nothing by sending them in.

I think the tests are important, but not something everyone has to take.

— Delaney Ball

“I think I’ll send them in. The test scores wouldn’t really take anything away, it could only help me… I think the tests are important, but not something everyone has to take. They don’t necessarily show everything that you’ve learned”

She also notes that even if her testing experience wasn’t perfect it gave her a good basis of where she was academically, and what she still needed to work on. Which is precisely the purpose of the ACT/SAT. 

“For students, beyond just helping them “get in,” a test score tells them where they are academically prepared for college and where they might need more help,” Christina Gordon states, “It is important to remember that the vast majority of “test-optional” schools still accept test scores, recommend students take the ACT test and often require test scores for other purposes.”

SAT and ACT tests don’t work for everyone, and more schools going test-optional could mean great things for students who shine in other realms of college applications. But there’s also no denying that the tests help many students display their academic understanding. Now more than ever, people have the choice of whether taking the tests is best for them or not. And the beauty of test optionality is that there really is no wrong choice anymore.

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