Last Updated On: May 27th, 2020

The University of California system has announced that it is dropping the SAT/ACT admissions testing requirements for its applicants beginning in Fall 2021. This decision has been hailed by some as a way to reduce the stress of college applications and make the admissions process fairer for low-income students. Others, however, have criticized it as getting rid of an important standardized measure of student achievement while failing to address the real inequities in the education system. Here are some answers to questions students might have about this dramatic step.

Who does this decision affect?
California students who apply to UCs or Cal State schools over the next two years will have the option to submit standardized test scores, but they will not be required. During that time, standardized tests will be used “only to award scholarships, determine course placement and assess out-of-state students.” This word choice indicates that test scores may be required for out-of-state or foreign students, or that they may expand scholarship and other opportunities, for the next few years. After 2025, however, SAT and ACT scores will not be considered on any student’s application, in-state or out-of-state.

Without standardized tests, how will admissions decisions be made?
The University of California system currently uses “comprehensive admission” criteria and a “holistic review.” These criteria include 14 factors, of which standardized test scores are one. Now that standardized tests are being eliminated, we can assume that the other 13 factors will be weighted more heavily. These 14 factors are:

  1. Grade-point average
  2. Test scores
  3. Performance in and number of courses beyond minimum a-g requirements
  4. UC-approved honors courses and advanced courses
  5. Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) – CA residents only (Admission to at least one UC is offered to students with a GPA in the top 9% of each high school class.)
  6. Quality of senior-year program of study
  7. Academic opportunities in California high schools
  8. Outstanding performance in one or more academic subject areas
  9. Achievements in special projects
  10. Improvement in academic performance
  11. Special talents, achievements and awards
  12. Participation in educational preparation programs
  13. Academic accomplishment in light of life experiences
  14. Geographic location

Of these factors, colleges consistently report that GPA and rigor of coursework are among the top factors they consider. With the absence of test scores, however, extracurricular activities and other factors may be weighted more heavily than before.

Will other colleges follow California’s lead?
Right now, the answer is, “Wait and see.” There has been a movement recently for schools to become test-optional or drop standardized testing altogether, and some private colleges have done so. Many universities and colleges, however, including very prestigious ones, have not. (Some of those schools have temporarily dropped the requirement because of COVID-19 or have dropped SAT Subject Test requirements.) It’s likely that some other state university systems will wait to find out the consequences of California’s controversial move before they decide to make such a decision for their states.

Will the SAT and ACT be replaced by another test?
The UCs announced it will be studying the possibility of implementing their own admissions test in the future, but this is not a certainty.

Will this make getting into college easier?
Probably not. Since this removes one step of the process for California students applying to public schools, it may make the application process easier. It will not, however, make college admissions less competitive. Students hoping to get into the most competitive schools will still need stellar applications, with excellent grades, rigorous courses, and meaningful extracurricular activities. And if California schools eventually develop their own admissions test, it could add an additional step to the application process of students who are also applying to private or out-of-state schools.

Why did the University of California make this decision?
The main rationale is that it will make college admissions fairer for less privileged and underrepresented students. At LA Tutors, we would also interpret the reasoning like this: test preparation and tutoring programs work. In a way, they are victims of their own success. Preparation programs and tutoring are highly effective, and more privileged families are able to afford them, which increases the advantage of more affluent students in a system that’s already inequitable. Perhaps a good step to making the system fairer would be to invest in more one-on-one and small group opportunities (with or without standardized tests) within the school system, giving all students the proven benefits of targeted and individualized instruction.

So does this mean I don’t have to take the SAT or ACT?
If you are only applying to California public schools or test-optional private schools, you may be in a good position to drop the ACT or SAT, especially if you’re very strong in the other aspects of your application. The tests will likely still be used for many schools, however, so if you want to keep your options open then you will probably still want to prepare for and take the SAT or ACT. Either way, don’t let fear of standardized tests keep you from applying to the school of your dreams. With a little instruction and practice, you may be surprised at just how much you can improve your score!

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