Report: Standardized exams not heavily weighed in admissions

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently released a report stating college admission exams like the SAT and ACT might not be as critical to making admission decisions as some colleges and universities make them.

Ray Brown, dean of admissions, said admissions officials have placed too much emphasis on standardized exams. Standardized tests add to the admission process but not nearly as much as people think they do, Brown said. Standardized tests are only about 10 percent of what the university considers when reviewing a potential student’s application, he said.

The university uses standardized exams as a guide, as one more piece of information in the admission process, Brown said.

Wes Waggoner, director of freshman admissions, said the biggest benefit of standardized tests is they are the only thing that is standard for every applicant. Although an applicant’s high school transcript is most important because it shows what classes a student is taking and how well they performed, the problem is transcripts are not standardized, he said.

“Every high school has its own way of doing transcripts, and every high school has its own way of calculating GPAs and class rank,” Waggoner said.

The SAT provides a common scale by which all students are assessed but the test isn’t perfect, Waggoner said.

“Different groups of people, based on demographic qualities, whether it be ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, or zip code or number of parents who went to college, different groups score differently on the test,” Waggoner said.

Brown said one of the problems with the SAT is students game the test, or take it multiple times to increase their score.

“Poor kids who live in the inner city, no matter what color, are not able to even afford a second test, never mind the SAT prep classes that go with it or the several administrations of it,” Brown said.

In high school, Yen Phan, a junior biology major, was required to take prep courses and took the SAT three times to increase her score.

Phan said she thought her time in the prep classes would have been better spent studying for her other classes.

“Sometimes you go do the test, and it’s not the best test you take and it varies,” Phan said. “Sometimes you get the hard test, and sometimes you don’t.”

Waggoner said he doesn’t think the report results indicate the SAT is a bad test, but college admissions officers have a responsibility to not make admission decisions by just looking at a number.

Nonetheless, Brown said TCU will continue to use standardized tests in the admission process.

According to the report, a growing number of postsecondary institutions have made the SAT and ACT optional.

Steve Syverson, vice president of enrollment at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, said this is the third freshman class his university has had since it went test-optional. The university went test-optional because it believes the value of the tests do not outweigh the negative effects they have, Syverson said.

Going test-optional hasn’t changed Lawrence University’s admission process because the school placed a larger emphasis on students’ high school records before the change was made, Syverson said. The university is trying to empower students by allowing them to decide whether they submit their test scores, he said.

Brown said he is OK with continuing to use standardized exams in the admission process, but he would also be willing to go test-optional.

“I’m very thankful that we have a bunch of people around here who are quite thoughtful about this process and who have a real strong grip on the importance of the standardized exam,” Brown said.

Going test-optional would mean he and his colleagues would have to be more thoughtful about the assessments they make on high school transcripts, Brown said.