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SATS: How some colleges are going test-optional


When it comes to getting into college, the SAT exam absolutely matters. How you fill out those bubbles can be a key factor to getting in to your dream school. For many students, it can be a mind-numbing ordeal.

“There are people who are very skilled and knowledgeable who just don’t test well,” said Monty Neill of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “As much as 25 percent of test takers suffer from test anxiety.”

The SAT was designed to help colleges take some of the guesswork out of selecting prospective students and help level the playing field if all students are taking the same test.

“Big state universities, for example, often use them just to screen out a whole lot of applicants real fast, so that if you get a low score, you’re just not in the pool. That’s a resource question in part, they just don’t have the kind of resources a Harvard or a Mount Holyoke would have to look more carefully at individuals,” Neill said.

But should multiple choice answers be such a deciding factor in whether or not you’re qualified to spend four years at a school? Some are now saying no.

“It’s a four and a half hour experience that has lots of pressure added to it and it defines an ability to sit and take a test, fill out bubbles but beyond that, I’m not sure if it tells me about the student or ambitions,” says Holy Cross director of admissions, Ann Bowe McDermott.

In fact, more and more colleges and universities, 800 and counting, are instead going test-optional, putting little or no weight to the SATs and ACTs. Bowe McDermott tells us her staff concentrates more on a candidate’s entire body of work.

“It’s found years of progres. It’s a four year plan that they’ve pursued, so we look for evidence of rigor and we look for evidence of growth and we look for success, but we also look for that kind of well-roundedness that we know helps the Holy Cross community be the rich one that it is,” Bowe McDermott said.

“I’d worked for three years. Freshman, sophomore, junior in high school, and done all this grueling work and couldn’t stand the fact that all of a sudden, this one test seemed to carry just as much weight,” says Allie Kauffmann.

The philosophy is music to the ears of many high schoolers like her. She’s produced a video and even launched an online petition focusing on the unfairness of the test. In the eight-minute video she produced with her dad Sam, a film professor at Boston University, Allie interviews experts who claim the tests are flawed, including one from MIT who found the longer the essay, the higher the score and that errors in historical fact were not even penalized.

Another bone of contention for Allie and others are expensive test prep courses. Eight-hundred dollars worth of SAT tutoring later, Allie says she boosted her own score 300 points, and there she says proves yet another problem with the SATs. Those with money can literally buy a better score, while those without, go without.

“It’s not about actual real learning, it’s about gaming the test. People can clearly boost their test scores when they learn these tricks,” Neill said.

Though it benefited her, Allie felt it wasn’t fair, and wanted to do something about it. “I’m legitimately and truthfully trying to help these kids that don’t have these opportunities that I have, and it makes me sick that they don’t, so I’m going to use all the resources that I do have to make sure that they can at least have the opportunity to have what I’ve had, and that’s important to me,” Kauffmann said.

So for those of you who are sharpening their number two pencils for this Saturday’s test, you’ll want to rest up, and study up, but don’t stress. Because if your score isn’t quite what you’d hoped for, you have some schools who are looking at you beyond that four-digit score.

“There are other things that students could spend their time thinking about and kind of concentrating and perfecting, so that they don’t just present great tests, but they also present themselves as competent, solid students that offer a tremendous amount to a school that’s lucky enough to get them,” Bowe McDermott said.

Fair Test’s Listing of Test-Optional Schools:

To See Allie’s Video or Sign the Petition:

For an SAT Study plan:

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