The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday September 21st

Column: The pros and cons of standardized tests

DTH Photo Illustration. This year's college application process has looked very different for current high school seniors, especially due to some schools waiving their standardized testing requirements.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. This year's college application process has looked very different for current high school seniors, especially due to some schools waiving their standardized testing requirements.

The College Board officially announced on Jan. 19 that it would discontinue SAT subject tests in the U.S., effective immediately. International students currently registered for a subject test can still take one until June 2021. 

This announcement is just the latest blow to standardized testing. Since the pandemic began, many schools have relaxed their testing requirements to compensate for the lack of testing dates and potential financial strain for families. The UNC System was among the schools that waived the testing requirements for students who were applying to the spring, summer and fall 2021 admissions cycles.

These developments have raised the question of whether admission tests like the SAT and ACT should be permanently ignored when considering future applicants.

Here are the pros and cons of standardized tests:


  • Fairness. Standardized tests are relatively fair in the sense that everyone will be taking the exact same exam on test day. Therefore, it hypothetically evens the playing field for students who come from schools with fewer resources.
  • Same standards. Whereas things like GPA can often be misleading or inflated, the SAT and ACT are graded based on national standards. This means that the metric for everyone's the same and there will be no bias, as a computer grades the tests.
  • An objective metric. Given that most schools evaluate applicants holistically, colleges rely on both subjective (i.e. essays, extracurriculars, interviews) and objective (i.e. tests, GPA) measures. Removing standardized testing would therefore deny colleges a huge part of the objective measures and force them to look even more at GPA.


  • Doesn’t consider external factors. Standardized tests don’t take into account the external factors of the student taking the exam. For example, a student from a wealthy family can afford more study resources or even private tutors. Likewise, students from wealthier families can afford to take the tests multiple times to get a good "superscore," while less wealthy students might only be able to take it once or twice.
  • Not necessarily representative. A single test is just that: one test. Some students who might not be good test takers could struggle with the SAT or ACT, but perform excellently in class. Therefore, standardized tests don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of a student’s true academic prowess.
  • Costly. According to the College Board website, the SAT registration fee is $52. This may not seem like a lot, but the costs can definitely add up for many families and while waivers do exist, the student will have to apply separately for it, which adds even more stress. Even for wealthier families, paying $52 each time for the test can become annoying, especially when the family will later have to pay for college application fees.

Ultimately, there isn’t any obvious solution to the question of whether standardized testing should continue to be taken into account for college applications. 

Even if schools were to go test-optional, then what? 

It wouldn’t automatically make it easier to get into college, if anything, it might make it even more difficult because it would be even harder for admissions officers to differentiate between applicants. Almost everyone has roughly the same extracurriculars, and most UNC students are close to the top of their class, so their GPAs will be mostly similar as well. 

Furthermore, going test-optional might significantly increase the number of applications to schools, which, once again, makes it harder to differentiate yourself from others. When considering all of these things, standardized tests might truly embody the phrase “a necessary evil."

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