Harvard Goes Test Optional


Sara Ismile, Hard News Editor

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard University, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, decided to make a groundbreaking change to their admissions by going “test-optional” for the next four years.

Colleges that are test-optional do not require applicants to submit their standardized test scores. This regulation does not prohibit students from including their scores, but if an overall high-performing student scores poorly on a standardized exam, their low test score will not hurt their application, as they are not required to submit it. The standardized tests being referred to are the SAT and ACT exams, which are usually taken whilst students are in high school. In previous years, colleges have also asked students to submit their SAT subject test scores in their application, but in 2021, the subject tests were discontinued permanently by the College Board. 

Harvard becoming test-optional for the next four years means that anyone currently in high school will not have to submit their SAT or ACT scores in order to be admitted. Many other colleges and universities have also adopted this test-optional policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview, Tech guidance counselor Ms. Luckman stated that she believes Harvard and other colleges decided to go test-optional “because tests just weren’t being given.” She explained that there were two main reasons behind the colleges’ decision: the difficulty students faced in accessing exams, and admissions officers realizing that they can still receive an academically dedicated class without looking at standardized test scores.

In an online questionnaire conducted with students at Brooklyn Tech, surveyees were asked if they thought the SAT was a good way to measure intelligence. Dia Brar (‘23), a student in the Software Engineering major, responded by stating, “No, it’s not a good way to do that, but I also don’t think it was ever seen as a way to measure intelligence.” Out of the ten students who were interviewed, all but one student expressed that they thought the SAT was not an accurate measure of high school students’ intelligence at all. 

A common statement echoed by four of the students was that the SAT merely evaluates how good a student is at taking a test, which they argued does not equate to being intelligent. Edward Brooks (‘23) remarked, “Intelligence is a very broad subject and shouldn’t be measured by your ability to read, write, and do math.” 

Despite the majority of the interviewees who argued against the SAT’s ability to capture intelligence, Daniela Margarita (‘23) in the architectural major had a different perspective. “There are different aspects of intelligence. The SAT reflects how fast people can understand the problems,” she noted.

Ms. Luckman, however, also agreed with the majority of interviewed students in stating that the SAT simply “measures how good you are at taking a test.” 

With an increasing number of colleges becoming test-optional, the question of whether or not the SAT will even be administered in the future or used in the college admissions process has surfaced. Anisha Azizi (‘23) in the LIU Advanced Health major stated that she did not think they would ever be eliminated because “many institutions make money off of the SAT,” and that these institutions would never abandon the profit they generate from the exam. 

This is true in the sense that administering standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, and even the SHSAT result in a large chain of tutoring organizations that profit from the exam. Even if tests are free for students to take, organizations such as Kaplan result in excessive money spent by parents in preparation for the exam. This is also the same for at-home practice books, which contribute to the profit companies make from these standardized exams.

The transition from all colleges requiring test score submission, to over two-thirds of the nation’s universities becoming test-optional was a true mark of the Coronavirus pandemic. During the early stages of the virus outbreak in 2020, many high school students experienced limited access to exams due to health and safety regulations, which originally prompted schools to reconsider their test score requirements. Now, at the start of 2022, Harvard has followed suit and also become test-optional until the current freshman class graduates.

The standards and content of the SAT have changed substantially in recent years with the elimination of the optional SAT essay portion and SAT subject tests. With these new guidelines, it seems as though colleges are diverting their attention away from standardized exams in the admissions process and focusing more on other aspects of a student’s academic performance, such as their GPA, course difficulty, and extracurricular activities. While it seems unlikely that standardized tests will be forgotten completely, colleges are moving towards more flexibility when it comes to admissions.