The crucial testing policy you are not appreciating enough


Photo by Ben Mullins

As the covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, many students say they still feel pressured to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Even though colleges have gone test optional, testing companies continue to promote testing dates and put pressure onto students.

Max Feldman, Magazine Editor-in-Chief

With most colleges going test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle, incoming seniors are not taking enough advantage of this change. For many students, this policy change has gone into one ear and out the other.

Even though the colleges and universities themselves are not putting pressure on applicants for high test scores, or scores at all for that matter, there are still a variety of expectations being thrust towards them. Weekly reminders from the College Board and ACT still bombard students’ emails, letting them know there are still opportunities to take tests. Students themselves worry about losing their edge against other applicants. 

The test-optional policy many colleges are putting forth is, by all means, necessary and justified. But that doesn’t mean it will make a difference.

Seniors like Abby Degustino, who has not been able to take the ACT yet, say that the policy change initially lifted a weight off of their shoulders, but there is still pressure to take standardized tests. Many students are still trying to sign up for upcoming testing dates “because they still want that extra edge in their applications to colleges, they’re very motivated to try and get into their dream college,” says Degustino. “I think colleges are doing the right thing by going test-optional, but the students that are taking tests are giving themselves an extra boost to show if they don’t have a good GPA that they get a very good score on the ACT or SAT.”

Along with the pressure students may put on themselves, constant emails from organizations like College Board and ACT directly contradict the message many colleges and universities are putting forth. While the test-optional policy is a necessary and crucial change for the application process, these companies deny the fading importance of their exams in order to line their pockets. 

“You have to remember [the college board and the ACT] is a business,” Degustino says. “They’re struggling with these times because they’re not making as much money as they would have before. I see the standardized test companies as a sibling and the colleges as a parent. If siblings say you’re going to get in trouble rather than your parents saying you’re going to get in trouble, you worry about one person saying it more than the other. The colleges’ voice matters more than the standardized test company because that’s who you are really going to listen to in the end.”

As seniors weigh the voices of colleges and standardized test companies during the upcoming application process, juniors may have a different outlook on their testing plans. While seniors rightly have the option to abstain from taking the ACT or SAT this year, college testing policies remain muddled for juniors. Dominic Mazucca, junior, says he still plans to take tests during the next year. 

“I think my class has more options, so this is not a change for me. I still plan on taking the ACT and the SAT for a few reasons,” Mazucca says. “Colleges will use them for scholarships or financial aspects of applications, and it could be a nice tool to show your learning and that you’re hard-working and have good study habits.”

Juniors’ plans this year could reflect the testing landscape in the future. Even if many more colleges decide to go test-optional, college applicants may still see standardized tests as a valuable tool. 

Taking into account the viewpoints of future applicants puts the unique situation of this year’s seniors into perspective. In the midst of a global pandemic, colleges have made the right and fair choice by going test-optional. 

Despite the various pressures from themselves, parents, and standardized test companies, seniors like Degustino say that ultimately the circumstances make requiring test scores impossible. Degustino herself says that she was unable to sign up for any ACT tests over the summer, and had her April testing canceled. 

The upcoming senior class needs to release themselves from the pressure of getting a final, standardized score, not only because of the logistic problems with testing but the health implications as well. According to a University of California-Davis study, masks “provide an effective barrier against droplets”, and social distancing does work, since “the maximum distance of that flight [of droplets] is about 6 feet”. While the testing centers will mostly enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, the very idea of having to go out and be near other test-takers for prolonged periods causes discomfort for students like Degustino. 

“I feel like testing centers should be mostly safe, but there are a lot of what-if scenarios,” Degustino said. “What if some test-takers don’t have their mask on properly. Will the proctors be able to regulate that very easily? Some of the testing rooms are so huge, it might be hard to keep track of that. Especially when you are staying in the same room for hours, it’s a slight risk. It’s one of those questions you have to ask yourself – am I willing to take that chance?”