Institutions have long used standardized tests to measure students’ competency in specific subject areas. Some of the more common areas consist of language, math, science, logic, and reasoning. 

Students of all ages have come across these tests. From Common Core in elementary school to the ACT and SAT in high school, educators continuously use standardized tests to evaluate students’ intellect. 

ACT and SAT scores have been synonymous with college applications for years. These tests leave high school juniors preparing months or even years in advance to get the score they want. 

Traditionally, universities would consider an applicant’s standardized test score as part of their larger application. 

  • But how important are these tests today? 
  • Do students still need to receive high marks to get into top schools?

A History Lesson

If we discuss the importance of standardized testing, we should start with a brief history lesson. 

The SAT was developed in the 1920s as an IQ test to check the intelligence of recruits to the U.S Army. In the 1930s, the Ivy League giant Harvard adopted the test to evaluate applicants. Soon after that, the entire Ivy League (as well as many northeast institutions) made it part of their application requirements—like an academic domino effect.

But the founder of the other “big” test, the ACT, took some issue with the elite-spin of the SAT and created a different exam. University of Iowa professor Everett Franklin Linquist introduced the ACT in 1959 as an alternative to the SAT. 

Where the SAT primarily concentrated on cognitive reasoning, Linquist designed the ACT to help determine the comprehensive readiness of students in Math, English, and Social/Natural science. Unlike the SAT, these specific subjects were directly correlated with the content students learned in school.

The Business of Testing

Here’s the thing with standardized tests: it’s not just about the score you receive; instead, how well you do relative to other applicants. 

By scoring well, you’re trying to set your college application above the rest of the thousands of peers vying for the same spot. This competitive nature has led to a massive surge in the test preparation business. Today, students can purchase textbooks, classes, and tutoring sessions to help them prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a point of reference, The Princeton Review’s SAT prep packages can cost upwards of $5,000!

You might be wondering, who on earth is paying that much for test preparation? According to a 2019 article via MarketWatch, the tutoring and test preparation industry was valued at around $1.1 billion. 

In many ways, testing has become less about academic preparedness and more about your family’s financial standing. College is expensive enough as it is. Is it fair for underprivileged students to have to compete against applicants with access to high-cost test prep services?

This begs the ultimate question:

Should universities require standardized tests at all? 

This question garnered immense discussion and debate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Test Exodus

The 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years have seen several institutions waive testing requirements. 

According to PrepScholar, the University of California system, all the Ivy League schools, most public ivies, and many top liberal arts colleges will not require SAT/ACT scores from the 2021/2022 admissions cycle. 

While it started as a response to testing restrictions imposed by the COVID 19 pandemic, many institutions are now considering waiving testing requirements altogether. Schools such as the University of Oregon have announced that they’ve decided to become permanently test-optional. 

What does this change mean for your child’s application?

If some schools are changing their policies on standardized testing, what exactly does this mean for your child’s application? 

3 Steps To A Quality College Application

  1. Evaluate Admission Guidelines: First things first, you’ll want to get the details on the admission standards of the various target schools. Like a job application, you need to understand what the colleges are looking for. Do they value extracurricular activities? Test scores? Class rank? Application essays? Volunteer activities? Demonstrated leadership?
  2. Boost Your Application: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the application relative to the admission guidelines? Does your child have strong writing skills but the institution values test scores? You may want to highlight their performance in the SAT essay section (even if their overall score was a bit lower).
  3. Consider Scholarship Requirements: Every family preparing for college needs to have a large degree of self-awareness regarding their financial standing. How dependent will your child be on scholarship money and/or financial aid? Do the scholarships have SAT or ACT testing requirements? If so, are there scholarship alternatives with different standards?

Every school will have different requirements, so your child must know what they are and position their application accordingly. A small liberal arts college will likely want to see different things from a student’s application than a larger state school. 

This is yet another area where comprehensive college planning comes into play. When you know the schools your child is interested in, you can save/invest appropriately, plan for loans, fill out the required financial aid forms (FAFSA and more), apply for the best scholarships, etc. 

We are passionate about helping families create college plans that set their families up for success. Download our free college money report to learn more. 

Test Or No Test, College Prep Is Key

Applying for college is a multi-variable process.

Which colleges best suit your child’s skillset? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their application? Do they test well? Will they meet scholarship requirements? How much will you have saved for their education? 

At Chladek Wealth Management, we help our clients put those pieces together and craft a bulletproof college strategy. Schedule some time with us today. We can’t wait to help!


 The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes and should not be construed as specific investment, financial planning, tax, accounting, or legal advice. Please consult with a professional advisor before taking any action based on the contents of this article. All investment and financial planning strategies involve risk of loss that you should be prepared to bear. We cannot guarantee any investment performance whatsoever, and past performance is not indicative of potential future returns.