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The Future of Standardized Testing in College Admissions

IvyWise Live: Understanding the Standardized Testing Landscape

The standardized testing landscape has dramatically transformed over the past few years. What do these changes mean for you as you prepare to apply for college?
Join an IvyWise Tutor and IvyWise College Admissions Counselors to learn about what changes to the SAT mean for the college admissions landscape and how to adapt your testing and application strategies to demonstrate your personal strengths and passions in your applications.

College entrance exams have experienced major shifts over the last year that are leaving many students unsure about what their preparation strategy should look like moving forward. The team of college admissions experts at IvyWise is here to shed some light on the future of testing and what families can expect in the months and years ahead.

Last year many colleges transitioned to test-optional admissions policies, at least temporarily, in response to the ongoing disruptions and cancellations caused by COVID-19. Testing cancellations and limited spots led to many students giving up on testing altogether in 2020, culminating in the College Board announcing that it is eliminating SAT Subject Tests completely and doing away with the optional essay section on the SAT in order to streamline the testing experience.

With so many changes happening at once, there are bound to be questions about what the future of standardized testing will look like, and we have some insight on what to expect here.

Everyone is Reexamining the Role of SAT/ACT Scores 

With all of the recent changes and interruptions to standardized testing, colleges and students alike are reexamining the priority of these exams in the college prep and admissions process. Many colleges that went test-optional in 2020 might find that they’re able to build a qualified, well-rounded class easily without test scores, while others, like those that saw record-shattering application numbers this cycle, might find that test scores are necessary in order to manage the application review process and continue to build the best-fit classes for their institution.

As for college-bound students, many are wondering if it’s still worthwhile to take the SAT or ACT with the prospect of colleges extending their test-optional policies for another year or two. Although the role these exams play in admissions is shifting, it can still be beneficial for some students to continue to include taking the SAT or ACT as part of their college admissions strategy. Again, many colleges have only adopted temporary test-optional policies, meaning the SAT and ACT may still be required for certain schools in the future. Additionally, just because schools are test-optional, it doesn’t mean they are test-blind. A strong performance on the SAT or ACT could help strengthen a student’s profile during the application review process. So for now, we recommend that students continue to incorporate test prep into their college prep plan when appropriate and make a plan to sit for the SAT or ACT if they feel safe and are able to do so.

AP Exams Are Here to Stay 

SAT Subject Tests were already on the decline going into 2020, and the pandemic only accelerated the inevitable. While SAT Subject Tests were a great way for students to demonstrate proficiency and a specialty in an academic area of interest, grades and course rigor are by far the most important factors in the college admissions process – cue AP courses and exams. AP courses allow students to take more rigorous courseloads, and strong AP exam scores help students demonstrate a specialty in certain academic areas like math, science, English, etc. For the 2019-2020 school year, more than 22,000 schools offered AP courses, nearly double the number of schools that made these courses available two decades earlier. Given this uptick in AP courses offered around the US, and the elimination of SAT Subject Tests, expect AP exams to become an even more important part of the college prep and admissions process. If your school doesn’t offer an AP exam that aligns with your interests – don’t fret! You can self-study and independently register for the AP exam of your choice through a school that does offer it. Independently studying for an AP exam is another way to demonstrate your specialty in a certain subject area.

The Promise of Digital SAT and ACT Exams

In addition to eliminating SAT Subject Tests and the essay section, the College Board is also planning to make significant changes to the SAT itself. While specific details aren’t available yet, there are plans to create “a more flexible SAT – a streamlined, digitally-delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education.” We’ve heard this promise before, when the College Board announced it was accelerating it’s goal to deliver a digital, at-home SAT in 2020, only to abandon that plan after a disastrous at-home AP exam administration. Now the College Board is back with plans to continue to develop the digital SAT, except instead of administering it at home it will be administered at testing centers with a proctor present. The ACT has had similar plans for a digital roll-out in the US for a while now, as currently the ACT is only offered as a computer-based test for international students, but that was also put on hold due to the pandemic and limited resources. Now that the College Board has made the commitment to move forward with the digital exam, expect the ACT will dust off its old plan and revive its digital exam for US students as well. While it’s unlikely students in the future will be taking these exams at home, a digital version of either test may be available sooner rather than later.

These changes come at a time when many students are struggling to take the both the SAT and ACT due to ongoing COVID-19 cancellations. In 2020, there were about 2.2 million registrations for the SAT, but only about 900,000  tests were taken due to testing center cancellations. By streamlining the SAT and adopting a digital format, testing administrations may be faster and more efficient, leaving the door open for more sittings (possibly both a morning and afternoon sitting on Saturdays) and giving more students opportunities take the exams.

The ACT May Also Make Changes

The SAT is doing away with the optional essay, but what about the ACT? As of now, the ACT hasn’t made any formal announcements about a decision to eliminate the essay is part of its exam. However, many believe that it is likely that the ACT will ultimately move in a similar direction given that these two exams are always competing for market share. All four-year universities in the US accept both SAT and ACT scores as part of a student’s application, and eliminating the SAT essay portion, even if it was already optional, will likely push test-takers away from the ACT and toward the SAT. The Writing section of the ACT is already an optional part of the exam and if enough students opt not to take it, there is a significant chance that this portion of the ACT may be phased out, too.

At IvyWise we’re always staying on top of the latest college admissions news and trends in order to deliver the best college counseling possible. Our college admissions counselors and tutors work one-on-one with students to help them adapt to the changes and challenges that come their way during their college admissions journey. If you are preparing to apply to college and looking for personalized guidance, like whether or not it makes sense to try to take the SAT or ACT this year, contact us today.


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