Nothing standardized about this admissions year

By Delilah Belmont, The Wheatley School
and Maeve Fishel, Edward R. Murrow High School 

For rising high school senior Colleen Giunta, the news that SATs were being cancelled came as a relief. 

“It’s an inaccurate representation of all that we have learned. I’m glad we don’t have to take them,” the 17-year-old student at The Wheatley School said about the standardized tests, which were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic in accordance with lockdown procedures and Centers for Disease Control guidelines for thousands of high school students this year. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, exams like the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement tests have been cancelled or modified. This has caused thousands of universities and colleges to go test-optional or require fewer academic records for the 2020-21 application year. 

Many high school students take test prep courses to help prepare for standardized tests like the SATs and ACTs, which can cost up to $10,000, according to research published by last July. These courses focus on how to approach the tricky exam questions, but put students who are unable to afford these courses at a disadvantage.

Giunta, who lives in East Williston, New York, took one of these courses in the beginning of the year, but halted her studies when she learned that most of the schools she has been considering have gone test-optional. 

Although frustrated by the waste of money and time, Giunta said she does realize the benefits of not putting so much emphasis on test scores. 

“For people that are not great test takers or can’t afford to take a test prep course, they will now have better chances of getting into college,” she said. 

These changes to the test-taking and scoring process has reignited an ongoing debate over whether or not standardized tests are necessary at all. 

She said she would much rather have admissions officers focus on her resume and grade point average instead of test scores. 

And Giunta is not alone. “Many people feel that these tests are not an accurate measurement of students’ intelligence, but merely a way to see how students can answer a bunch of arbitrary questions in a set amount of time,” she said.

Another area affected by lockdown was the AP tests, which underwent significant changes to accommodate the online format. Instead of the three-hour-long tests and multiple choice sections that students were expecting, this year’s exams presented 45-minute tests with either one to two long-answer questions or an essay for humanities-based tests like English and AP U.S. History, according to the College Board. 

Giunta said it was “extremely unfair” to only have one question dictate how you performed over an entire year of curriculum. She added that the questions were randomized for each student but the level of difficulty was not consistent throughout, putting certain students at a big disadvantage compared to some of their peers.

However, administrators and students soon discovered the serious drawbacks of testing online. All over the country, students experienced technical difficulties that prevented them from uploading their responses and, in some cases, caused them to take the test all over again. 

According to Business Insider, nearly 10,000 students experienced technical difficulties when it came to submitting their responses. 

With mass uncertainty about whether SAT exams will remain scheduled this year, the criteria for admissions has vastly changed as some colleges, like Stony Brook University, opt for a more holistic admissions approach. 

Robert Pertusati, Stony Brook’s associate dean of admissions, stresses “quality over quantity.”

“We want you to tell your story,” said Robert Pertusati, Stony Brook’s associate dean of admissions, who emphasized the importance of college essays and extracurricular activities over test scores. 

He also advises stressed students to focus on “quality over quantity,” that universities are more interested in the kind of person the applicant is rather than their academic accomplishments.

“It’s not just a laundry list of everything you’ve done since exiting the womb or the depth of the experience,” he said. “We want to understand how well you can articulate your ideas in writing.” 

Pertusati also encouraged students who are interested in a specific college to demonstrate that interest to the faculty, urging teens to “let the colleges know that we’re all on their radar.” 

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