Prior to coronavirus, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) was standard for college admissions. A minimum score was required. U.S. colleges had different testing scores requirements. But the pandemic shook up the academic world, and the SAT requirement changed.
SAT Used Since 1926
The SAT started as IQ tests for the Army. These IQ tests evolved into the SAT. Since the college boards wanted standardized admission tests, they eventually adopted the nonprofit SAT for the standardized test. It was used as part of many U.S. colleges’ application process.
Prospective students can take the test numerous times. Most U.S. colleges allow them to send in their highest score. But other schools, like Cornell University, require all SAT scores to be submitted.
U.S. Colleges Adopt SAT
SAT scores have been part of the college application process for decades. Most U.S. colleges ask for SAT scores or ACT scores as part of the admissions requirement.
But strong SAT scores are not the only element of the application process. Colleges also look at the prospective student's GPA. The difficulty of high school coursework is also considered.
Procedure for SAT and Pandemic
Prospective students take the SAT and ACT at various testing centers throughout the U.S. Each SAT is comprised of two sections.
The first section is Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This has an additional optional essay. The other section is Math. Each section is worth 800 points with a maximum of 1,600 points.
During the pandemic, the testing centers were temporarily closed. Unfortunately, this left many students stranded. Fortunately, U.S. colleges made some accommodations.
At one point, there were SAT subject tests. This was also called SAT 2. These tests were based on one subject that a college might require. For instance, it could be a physics test or a world history test. But in June 2021, the college board did away with this version.
Beginning in 2024, students will use laptops instead of pencils and paper to take the SAT. The digitized test will take two hours instead of the current three. In addition, the reading passages will be shorter.
Pandemic Changes U.S. College Admissions
The application process was turned on its head when the pandemic hit. Incoming students couldn't go to testing centers. As a result, U.S. colleges took a new look at evaluating prospective students. An SAT score or ACT score was no longer a major part of the admissions requirement.
Elimination of Required SAT
Although some schools, like the University of Chicago, eliminated mandatory SAT scores prior to COVID-19, it became an even more significant trend after the pandemic hit. Now, half of the Ivy League schools have test-optional admissions.
Currently, Harvard University, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College and others don't require SAT scores or ACT scores as part of the application process.
International students must take the SAT or ACT. They must also take English language entrance tests like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or Pearson Tests of English (PTE).
Some Colleges Adopt Test-Optional
Many U.S. colleges have changed their admissions requirements to test-optional.
A test-optional college or university does not require SAT scores or ACT scores as part of the application process. But they can be submitted if desired. This allows prospective students the choice of submitting their SAT scores. But test-optional U.S. colleges may still use these scores during the financial aid review.
A test-blind college or university means that the school doesn’t accept SAT or ACT scores during the application process. But the university will use standardized test scores to test into specific academic levels when a prospective student enrolls.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Opting out of submitting SAT scores can cost money. Many U.S. colleges have merit-based scholarships. They evaluate the SAT scores, GPA and high school workload during the admissions process to determine the number of scholarships offered.
Often, they have a minimum SAT score requirement for scholarship eligibility.
In the past, financial aid was also influenced by SAT scores and ACT scores. A high SAT score was thought to increase prospective students' desirability for college.
SAT/ACT Return to MIT
There is a college that’s bucking the no standardized test trend. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is reversing its pandemic decision. Instead, for the 2023 admissions year, they will require SAT scores or ACT scores.
Their research showed that a standardized test better assesses academic readiness. They also felt requiring standardized tests was more transparent and equitable than a test-optional policy.
MIT pointed to the Math section of the SAT. A strong score in math indicated a strong foundation for preparedness in entering MIT.
MIT doesn’t just rely on standardized test scores but takes a holistic approach. For example, they factor in GPA and weighted high school coursework.
SAT Accused of Bias
Standardized test scores have long been accused of bias regarding socioeconomic and racial disparities.
Standardized test critics claim that the tests were biased toward affluent, white and Asian American students. According to an article published in The New York Times, the College Board, which administers the test, noted in 2019 that 55 percent of Asian American test takers and 45 percent of white test takers scored over 1,200. But only 12 percent of Hispanic and 9 percent of black test takers scored over 1,200.
But a University of California faculty task force noted that SAT scores and ACT scores helped minorities and low-income students. They found the test scores offered an additional metric for analyzing admission. This was good for those prospective students that might have been rejected on GPA.
MIT’s study showed that a test score more accurately predicted student success. It diminishes the economic barriers by eliminating the need for advanced high school coursework, which isn't always available. Finally, it allows for identifying talented, disadvantaged students that otherwise would not be recognized.
Some High Schools Require SAT
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., offer or mandate the SAT in high school. For example, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Oklahoma require 11th graders to take either the ACT or SAT. In West Virginia, students choose between the SAT or the W.V. Alternative Summer Assessment.
Other states, like Indiana, require the SAT as a requirement for graduation.
One of the reasons state high schools are offering or mandating SAT or ACT testing is economic. It’s an opportunity for socioeconomically challenged students to have access to a free standardized test. They’ll possibly need it for college admissions applications, so this is an opportunity.
The College Board has teamed up with Khan Academy to offer test preparation, and often high schools provide test preparation courses. This can only give prospective college students an edge.
- Prep Scholar: Which States Require the SAT
- CNN: MIT Will Once Again Require Applicants to Take the SAT or ACT, Bucking Anti-Test Movement
- Forbes: Changes Coming to SAT as Colleges Drop Testing Requirements
- Washington Post: Colleges are Ditching Required Admission Tests over COVID-19. Will They ever Go Back?
- Washington Post: Why U.S. Colleges are Rethinking Standardized Tests
- Honest Game: What Does Test Optional Mean
- Study Point: SAT History: The Evolution of the SAT
- CNBC: The SAT Will Go Fully Online and Take Just Two Hours
- Edvoy: Which Exams do I Need to Take to Study in the USA
- MIT Admissions: We are Reinstating Our SAT ACT Requirements for Future Admissions Cycles
- The New York Times: Why Is the SAT Falling Out of Favor?
Anne attended University of Akron and went on to have a career in television sales. Working as a commercial property and casualty insurance agent for nine years allowed her to learn about different businesses' needs. She has also owned an advertising agency where she created marketing capaigns for various clients. Anne has written for several publications. She currently resides in Charleston, SC.