Anyone who's taken -- or is preparing to take -- a standardized test like the SAT or ACT is all too familiar with the cloud of anxiety that lingers each day leading up to the exam. In recent years, many admissions officers have taken a more critical look at these tests and questioned whether all the stress leading up to the exam day is truly worth it, and whether the test is really an accurate predictor of how well a student will fare at their university.
That's why several colleges, including New York University, Wake Forest University and Connecticut College have joined a growing list of schools that consider themselves "test optional," "test flexible" or have chosen to de-emphasize the importance of standardized testing in their undergraduate admissions process. This approach allows students to choose whether or not to report their test scores to the school.
But Hampshire College in Massachusetts is taking this one step further -- last year, the liberal arts school stopped accepting standardized test scores altogether. According to the school's president, Jonathan Lash, the decision has paid off in droves. "The quantity of applications went down, but the quality went up, likely because we made it harder to apply, asking for more essays," he wrote in an article published by The Independent. "Our applicants collectively were more motivated, mature, disciplined and consistent in their high school years than past applicants."
Lash wrote that the school considered several factors before making the decision to drop standardized testing from its admissions requirements. "Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college," Lash wrote, adding that "Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry. Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student." Instead, the school will "look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection."
According to Lash, the school's decision was also influenced by its commitment to promoting diversity. "SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission," Lash wrote.
For students taking one -- or several -- standardized tests, costs can mount quickly. Not only do students pay up to $54.50 to take the SAT, the preparation for the test can cost can be a huge financial burden. According to The Hartford Courant, Kaplan, a popular test prep service, "offers a range of study packages starting at $299 and full of additional practice tests."
Some college graduates feel standardized tests are a critical part of the admissions process. Julianne, a 26-year-old Harvard grad, said that while she understands how testing can skew in favor of the privileged, she still believes the SAT helped her when applying to college. "I went to a pretty bad public high school, and I think the test proved that my grades weren't just a fluke of going to a less academically rigorous high school than a lot of my peers."
Others still question the place of standardized testing in the broader scope of academic assessment. "Standardized testing is not an accurate reflection of a student’s intelligence or learning capabilities, especially given that severe test anxiety affects approximately 20% of the school-going population," Taylor, a 26-year-old UConn grad, said. "Students are more than a test score and they should be afforded more opportunities in the classroom to prove themselves as such."
Hampshire's decision to drop standardized testing has come at a price the school is willing to pay. "You won’t find our college in the U.S. News & Word Report 'Best Colleges' rankings released this month," President Lash wrote. "Last year, Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That’s OK with us."
Update 9/28: Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, told MTV News, "We made the decision to eliminate standardized test scores from our application for admission because it enables us to advance our mission, free of consideration for rankings or finances, and we're confident we made the right decision....I've posted details of the results of our decision on my Huffington Post blog."