Peter Kapp | Standardized testing is a necessary evil.

The SAT and ACT maximize fairness in college admissions.

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By Peter Kapp

Nobody likes the SAT. Nonetheless, the well-being of our colleges and universities, and the students who attend them, depends on it. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most colleges and universities have dabbled in the “test-optional” realm of college admissions. Initially, getting rid of the standardized testing requirement was an effort to allow students who couldn’t test during the pandemic an opportunity to apply to college, but it quickly evolved into an effort to maximize “fairness” in the process. While the intent was noble, the attempt was counterproductive and decreased the quality of the admitted candidates. This left admissions officers impaired, with insufficient information to create the highest quality incoming class. There is a wide world of high school education out there and it is impossible for a college to evaluate each student without a proxy for their educational aptitude. The standardization provided by the SAT is the only way to secure fairness in the college process. 

Grade inflation in high schools is rampant, and it prevents admissions officers from getting any real gauge of whether a student does well in school. In the U.S. today, a plurality of grades are As. Between 1999 and 2016, the average GPA increased by .11 on a 4-point scale, while the average SAT dropped 24 points. But if grade inflation were consistent, it wouldn’t really be a problem. Students across the country would all have higher grades which is fairly easy to account for. 

The obstacle on the road to fairness is that in wealthier private schools, the average GPA increased by 8%, while in public schools, it increased by only .6%. This variation makes it like comparing apples to oranges when distinguishing between a private school student from Manhattan and a public school student from the South Bronx. GPA is effectively arbitrary and serves only as a comparison to students at the same school.

GPA gives a significant advantage to the wealthy while the SAT creates a more objective and level playing field. Dartmouth released data indicating that during their stint with the test-optional policy, they saw no increase in low-income students, first-generation students, or students deemed to have had a challenging upbringing. If the goal was to create “fairness” for students who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend Dartmouth, why was this policy so ineffective? 

It’s true that in a process that considers only SAT scores for their process, there would likely be an increase in underprivileged admissions. This is not, however, how any school uses the SAT or determines which students to admit. Dartmouth was already well aware of the fact that it is harder to get a 1550 in the South Bronx than it is from a private school in Manhattan, so being test-optional does not help underprivileged applicants. One study on the policy explained: “An applicant with an SAT score of 1400 has a higher probability of admission if from a high school where average SAT scores are relatively low. Under a test-optional policy, these students are less likely to be identified and admitted.” Colleges do a good job putting a student into context, which is the entire premise of “holistic admissions.” Therefore, evaluating an application without standardization negates the objective outperformance that many underprivileged students achieve.  

The SAT is the most powerful indicator of success in college. The goal of college admissions should be to create the strongest class of qualified students across a wide range of disciplines. GPA and extracurricular activities are important factors, but alone they are far from enough to get a complete picture of a student’s actual ability to perform at an academically rigorous institution. I am a proponent of a holistic approach to college admissions. I understand that every student is more than a number out of 1600. However, for many students from lower-income or less-resourced communities, that number out of 1600 has more power to get their foot in the door than any GPA or extracurricular activity ever could. 

Penn’s recent decision to remain test optional in the coming admissions cycle marks another decision made to protect its image over practicality and integrity. Therefore, it will continue to see declining class quality and fairness until it acknowledges that testing requirements are essential for maximizing a population of exceptional students from varied backgrounds. Standardized testing ensures the holistic college admissions experience universities have boasted since the enactment of their test-optional policy. Any attempt to compare students who grew up in different environments thousands of miles away in entirely different school systems and family lives is futile and will create a second-rate class. 

Peter Kapp is a sophomore in the College studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Greenwich, CT. Peter is also the Business Director for The Pennsylvania Post. His email is

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