Colleges Explore Shades of Gray in Making Entrance Tests Optional

Carol’s summary:

Relying more on high school preparation and individual assessment of education potential, a growing number of schools nationwide are making college-entrance exams optional for admission. In recent years, about 30 percent, or nearly 760 of about 2,500 accredited four-year institutions across America, have made at least some standardized tests, including the ubiquitous ACT and SAT, optional for some applicants, according to the nonprofit advocacy group FairTest. The dean or other admission personnel typically interview applicants who choose not to provide the scores and many colleges require an essay or writing sample. Eliminating standardized exams can make colleges more diverse by allowing them to admit more underrepresented groups.

In his pioneering work, Yale psychology professor Robert Sternberg, questions our age-old practices for measuring mental acuity, and the way our society now selects and educates the best and the brightest. His model of successful intelligence supports the idea that students are not their test score and that our current exams are ineffective because they are unable to measure the broad range of abilities and skills that students possess. He contends that the tests mainly measure the ability to succeed in a system that rewards the best test takers, and that these tests are insufficient predictors of future performance. ”Our view is this country wastes a lot of talent,” Dr. Sternberg said. ”There are a lot of kids who have potential to be successful in their fields, but the way the system is set up, they never get the chance.” LifeBound’s curricula incorporate lessons and activities that promote learning in our diverse world. Samples from each curriculum are posted on our web site at

If you are a student who is a poor test taker, what are ways you can look at your abilities more broadly and put yourself in environments that make the most of your gifts and talents?

An important question for students and parents during the college search is: What is the institution’s graduation rate and retention rate for the freshmen to sophomore year?

Is the way that colleges are using their data, whether via entrance exams or nonconventional methods, working?


Colleges Explore Shades of Gray in Making Entrance Tests Optional
By Eric Hoover
March 21, 2010
Ursinus College considered fairness and ideals as well as marketing and logistics

When a college stops requiring standardized admissions tests, no rainbow magically appears. Its endowment doesn’t grow, and its costs don’t shrink. Presidents still worry, professors still complain, and students still drink too much on Saturday nights.

Nonetheless, tales of going “test optional” often have a romantic tinge. In them, admissions deans, worried about equity and anxious teenagers, finally decide to do the right thing by casting off those terrible tests. After that, everything on the campus gets better.

Like many stories, this one invites other interpretations. A popular reading is that competition alone compels colleges to drop their ACT and SAT requirements. In this rendering, colleges care more about their image than anything else.

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