In current times, the thought of university admissions foregoing test scores is almost inconceivable. Test scores have become a fundamental part of how places in university courses are allocated. In many cases, test scores are seen as the most objective or fair way of determining who gets in. However, with Columbia University implementing a permanent test-optional policy that mirrors an increasing number of institutions across the US, university leaders are beginning to lessen the emphasis on test scores in their admissions policies. Will test scores be irrelevant down the line, or will test scores always factor into higher education?
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There are many reasons why test scores are falling out of favour as a primary source of information on prospective students. Standardized testing can measure how well a student knows how to use certain strategies rather than their actual intelligence or readiness for university. Testing can also favour those with higher incomes, since wealthier students can afford to receive tutoring that prepares them for these tests, whereas this may be inaccessible for those with lower incomes. In addition, testing showcases a snapshot of a student’s abilities on one particular day, rather than a more holistic look at their educational career.
If test scores aren’t the main factor, what else can universities consider to make their decisions? An updated system might place a greater emphasis on other elements that already exist within the application process. Essays, for example, display not only a student’s writing and language skills, but also their ability to organise their thoughts into a coherent structure. Students have plenty of time to spend drafting and redrafting their essays to make them the best they can be. A greater emphasis on extracurricular activities could also highlight a student’s passions, and how they link to their ambitions for the future and their educational journey as a whole.
It seems unlikely that testing will ever disappear completely. Standardized tests provide an important baseline for student performance, and a means of measuring how different regions are faring compared to one another. They also provide a way to reflect on teachers’ performances and success with their students. However, if the current trend continues, it seems likely that testing will be supplementary rather than a primary factor in who gets accepted to which university course.
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