Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Testing troubles: Are the ACT and SAT becoming obsolete?


From 2018 to 2019, 77% of students reported standardized test scores through the Common Application. This year, that number has decreased to 43%, according to data reported by the Common App. The pandemic has created a snowball effect for limiting the role of standardized testing in college admissions, as many colleges and universities are no longer requiring students to submit ACT or SAT scores. With the recently shortened and online version of the SAT — and many colleges not requiring standardized testing — are the ACT and SAT becoming things of the past?

Due to the test-optional policy adopted last year by over 1600 colleges, as reported by Ivywise, students have been given a choice whether to take standardized college entrance exams — a marked contrast to pre-pandemic years when these tests were required for most college admissions. 

Many students still opted to take standardized tests because of the possibility of increasing their chances of college acceptance. 

“It was just kind of something that’s part of the college process,” Palo Alto High School senior Vienna Liu said. “So I didn’t really second guess [my decision to take standardized tests] — I know a lot of colleges are testing optional, but it’s something that can be potentially helpful if I did decently well. ” 

Story continues below advertisement

Senior Giada Parigi took a different approach to applying to college under these new policies. 

“I didn’t have to,” Parigi said. “It wasn’t required for my year. And then I have a lot of anxiety about taking tests. I just didn’t feel like it would be good for me. If I didn’t have to take it, why would I? Why would I take it if I knew it would make me more stressed and anxious?”

What kind of benefit do you want the [ACT/SAT] test score to do for you? That’s [just] your grade, nothing else.

— Leighton Lang, Gunn High School college and career counselor information specialist

With the new test-optional policy, as well as the coronavirus pandemic causing many seniors to take a gap year and an increase of applications — acceptance rates are plummeting. Harvard’s acceptance rates dropped by 0.16 % in 2021. This trend has generally expanded beyond top 20 schools, with Spark Admissions, a Boston-based college admissions consulting firm, recently reporting an overarching drop in college acceptance rates from 2020-2021. 

“I believe what it [the test-optional policy] does for certain schools is opens up the door for more students to apply,” Gunn High School college and career counselor information specialist Leighton Lang said. “And I believe if we were to talk to a couple admissions counselors that have changed their policies … they would also say it [reporting a score] does create a different level of something that I can evaluate.”

Lang said he thinks there are many aspects of testing that must be considered when analyzing its value.

“The hard part of it is, when you attach the fee to it, how the students are able to prep for it, and those things, [makes it] where it’s [a] not fair or equal playing field,” Lang said. 

Lang argues that standardized testing undervalues the effort students put in their high school career, as one test shouldn’t determine different students’ ability to take tests.

“What I don’t support is an obstacle placed in front of a student to get a college education when they worked hard in high school,” Lang said. 

The tests themselves are expensive: an SAT costs $55 per exam, an ACT costs $60 per exam and AP test costs an average of $96 per exam. And while fee waivers are available to socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants, experienced college counselor Sandra Cernobori said she believes these aids do not create complete equity within the standardized testing world.

“These tests [SAT and ACT] are flawed,” Cernobori said. “The research shows not only bias in the questions, but also the students who perform well have a direct correlation to higher socioeconomic status because of access to tutors and high quality of schools.” 

Although Cernobori does not believe that standardized testing should be required, she doesn’t know for certain how else schools should weigh applications.

“One potential downside of not having an SAT or ACT is the lack of information for schools to rely on,” Cernobori said. “You could argue that admissions could just look at students’ transcripts, but how can you compare grades from a school with academic rigor to a school with a lower program?” 

The topic of standardized testing is still very controversial, and because of the pandemic, the idea of optional tests has only continued to expand, with many schools extending their test-optional policies through the next admission cycle. Lang urges students not to base their self-worth or sense of intellect on their standardized test score.

“What kind of benefit do you want the [ACT/SAT] test score to do for you?” Lang said. “That’s [just] your grade, nothing else.”

Click here for a full list of colleges going test-optional 

Have you taken a standardized test for your college applications?