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It seems as if each week brings more schools dropping the SAT/ACT essay requirement: this week, it was CalTech, Duke, and University of Michigan. Students and test-creators clashed over lower than expected scores from the June SAT, and ACT released a blog fighting back against the test-optional movement.
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Breaking News: ACT Registration is Now Open for 2018-2019 Academic Year

Recap: As of today, both domestic and international students are able to register for any ACT test date in the 2018-2019 academic year. Due to uncertainty over the availability of international test centers, we recommend that any of your students who are planning to take the test internationally in the fall register as soon as possible.

If you have any questions, please e-mail me or consult our Guide to Computer-Based Testing.

More Prominent Schools Drop the SAT/ACT Essay Requirement: CalTech, Duke, and University of Michigan

Recap: CalTech and University of Michigan have joined a growing number of schools that have dropped the SAT/ACT essay requirement. Duke University also announced that it will no longer require the essay starting the fall but does recommend it. In an article in the Washington Post, the dean of admissions at Georgetown University said, “I guarantee you it’s on its way out entirely,” citing that he never paid much attention to essay scores anyway. On the other hand, Princeton’s dean of admissions said she often read SAT or ACT essays to get a clearer picture of an applicant’s writing ability and felt that the test was useful. Most schools reported that they decided to drop the requirement out of concern for logistical or financial burdens that would prevent lower-income applicants from applying. Now, the decision to keep the essays as part of the SAT and ACT all seems to hang on the University of California system: a huge player in the admissions landscape and one of the original college systems to push for the essay’s creation. UC schools make up about half of all the universities that still require the essay.


  • It seems like a matter of time now before the essay goes out the door. Unless the CB and ACT can come back with significantly persuasive research showing that the essay predicts college success (something they have not yet been able to prove), the UC system is likely to eliminate the essay as well.
  • The College Board and ACT haven’t said much to defend the essay in the past two weeks; perhaps they, too, want to see it gone?

CalTech Drops SAT/ACT Writing Test (Inside Higher Ed)

Pencils Down: Major Colleges Stop Requiring Essay Test for Admission (Washington Post)

Duke Will Change Its SAT and ACT Requirements (New Observer)

Duke Drops SAT Essay Writing Score Requirement for Applicants (Duke Chronicle)

The Big Picture: The End of College Admissions Writing Tests (Axios)

For Fate of SAT Writing Test, Watch California (Inside Higher Ed)

Low June SAT Scores in Math Confuse and Anger Students

Recap: Students and parents are upset after scores from the Math section of the June SAT came back far lower than expected. The College Board released an email explaining that the lower scores are due to an “equating” process. The June SAT Math section was significantly easier than earlier administrations of the test, so it was graded on a curve, resulting in comparatively lower scores. An analysis by the Princeton Review pointed out that the heavier curve on an easier test means that there is less of a cushion for careless errors. In addition to the issues with the Math section, two questions were thrown out on both the Reading and Writing sections, indicating that four questions on those sections were flawed.


  • Equating is a valuable process to ensure that students don't have an advantage or disadvantage based on the month they take the exam. However, equating can result in fluctuations like this.
  • Although equating is important, this June's fluctuation is one of the largest we've seen on the exam, and the size is the reason for all the anger. What we are witnessing here is the College Board still ironing out the kinks of the new SAT as the CB develops additional questions in the new format and gets used to making sure questions are standard across each test.

An “Easy” SAT and Terrible Scores (Inside Higher Ed)

Why You Don’t Want an “Easy” SAT (The Princeton Review)

The Downside of Test-Optional Policies, According to ACT

Recap: ACT has weighed in on the test-optional policy that some schools have adopted (including, most recently, the University of Chicago). In a statement on ACT's website, the organization outlines what it feels are the consequences for students when schools stop requiring ACT and SAT submission. These include introducing “a new level of strategy into the admission process” whereby students need to decide whether to submit scores without any data about how either choice will affect their candidacy, as well as heavier reliance in the admission process on grades, which can be inflated and unreliable. To level the playing field, ACT calls on test-optional schools to publish their data on students admitted with and without test scores, data such as GPA, class rank, scholarships attained, etc. The statement also cites a 2015 study that found that test-optional schools did not enroll higher numbers of low-income or minority students or offer a higher number of Pell grants, thus undercutting universities’ claims that going test optional is to increase socioeconomic diversity.

Takeaways: Like the College Board, ACT is fighting the test-optional trend. The data ACT presents here comparing a set of seven schools and their GPA and ACT trends is compelling. But it’s not clear how cherry picked this data might be without more context.

The Unintended Consequences of Test-Optional College Admission Policies (ACT)

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