Why evolving college admissions are leaving SATs and ACTs behind

Memorization and test preparation are not the key skills that determine success, president says
By: | April 5, 2021
(AdobeStock/VectorMine)(AdobeStock/VectorMine)
Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval

Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Fresno State

Like universities across the country, Fresno State joined the rest of the California State University system last spring in suspending the required submission of SAT and ACT scores by student applicants.

Given that so many testing centers were closed, it was the only logical move to ensure that our entering freshmen did not find themselves barred from furthering their education in a year affected by a pandemic.

Though the decision to suspend the use of SAT and ACT scores came about in response to unusual and particularly challenging circumstances, its urgency was obvious long ago. This perspective is shared by many affected parties, to the extent that Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT, acknowledged recently that test-optional admissions policies are here to stay.


More from UB: How SAT shifts will impact college access and equity


To be sure, numerous institutions, both public and private, large and small, adopted a test-optional mode long before the pandemic. What began as a slow, yet steady, progression of institutions rethinking the efficacy of the SAT and ACT has grown into a broad reconsideration of this element in college admissions.

What supports the elimination of the SAT/ACT requirement is ultimately the limited usefulness of standardized tests in predicting student success.

Impostor syndrome

The Scholastic Aptitude Test emerged in 1926, while American College Testing first arrived in 1959. Since their earliest days, these tests have undergone numerous updates in order to remain relevant in an ever-changing landscape of higher education.

Yet, even with updates, both tests reflect a blind faith that a well-intentioned application of the scientific method can straightforwardly capture a definitive link between test results and future student success.

However, the scientific method itself requires the continuous reassessment of parameters, processes and established frameworks for addressing a given issue. Now is the time to reevaluate the relevance of the standardized test score, in the determination of the educational future of so many talented and creative students.

For Fresno State, The College Board’s own Admission Validity studies provide concrete evidence of the effectiveness of such tests in predicting student outcomes. In reviewing these studies over the past several years, we’ve found that considering SAT scores on top of other application criteria provides almost no added advantage in terms of predicting students’ cumulative GPAs through their third year.

Ultimately, the SAT/ACT can’t measure strength of spirit, study habits or maturity. Determining the right answer to a standardized test question doesn’t necessarily involve artistic, creative or innovative thinking.

In a world in which the greatest challenges require a nimble and creative mind that assimilates information and translates it into nuanced thought or effective action, memorization and test preparation are not the key skills that determine success.

Though we have evidence of the limited predictive power of the SAT, it can have unexpected negative consequences; a low test score may affect students’ perceptions of their ability for years, even if the institution they attend considers scores to be unimportant.

The incidence of impostor syndrome for students arriving on college campuses cannot be overstated, especially on diverse campuses like ours. In many instances, it is more difficult for college administrators to work against students’ own misperceptions of their abilities than other, standard obstacles we might identify. A low SAT/ACT score can allow doubt to creep in, and that doubt can resurface when a student is faced with challenges along their academic path.

World requires mental agility

Much of the dialogue surrounding the move to a test-optional mode reflects a hope in a more diverse student body. While data suggests that the SAT/ACT may be a barrier to a college education due to persistent racial gaps in test scores, it’s wishful thinking to believe that this change will have a marked impact on the makeup of the student body.

It’s important to state that, even as we greatly value diversity, we are not aiming here to open doors that were previously shut: public universities have long been open to those who demonstrated an ability and willingness to do the work necessary to advance themselves, their families and their communities.

The U.S. Department of Education designates Fresno State as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. We do not want to undercut the success of our students by using an ineffective measure that fails to measure their potential to thrive, once given the opportunity.

Put simply, the SAT and ACT are ineffective in predicting student success. Now is the time to reassess the validity of standardized testing in a world that requires mental agility employed within a holistic approach to assimilating and producing knowledge.

Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval is interim president at California State University, Fresno.