Test-Optional Leads to Fewer Tests and More Stress

Justin Wu '22, Contributor

“Look at all of these colleges going test-optional! Doesn’t that reduce some stress toward your upcoming ACT?” asked my grandfather as he viewed the local newspaper’s captivating headline: “US Universities Go Test Optional.”

The answer is simply no. Test-optional rules have not in any way, shape, or form reduced the stress of college applicants.

Primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over a thousand US universities and colleges have publicly announced their plan to make standardized testing optional for current high school seniors. The easing of test requirements also coincides with a recent upsurge in the backlash against the SAT and ACT — education reform groups contend that the tests provide wealthier students with an unfair advantage due to the increasingly popular usage of expensive test prep programs.

While even the most selective American universities —including Harvard, Cornell, and Yale—have waived their standardized testing requirements this year, it seems that this drastic change in regulation has made life more troublesome for many students in both the Loomis Chaffee community and the wider world.

Ironically, the colleges’ alleviation of mandated standardized testing, a huge source of stress in the college application process, has led to further anxiety for those who still wish to take the SAT and ACT.

The new regulations, a feeble attempt by colleges to downplay the importance of standardized tests, have only increased the importance of an eye-catching SAT or ACT score. As the number of submitted test reports across the nation will undoubtedly plummet this year, the exclusivity of a 1600 or 36 will, in turn, increase. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that the demand for standardized testing has failed to decrease in the past few months.

The international demand for ACT test-taking, due to repeated cancellations of the test in previous months, was at its peak during registrations for the September test date. It was a bloodbath as registration depended on how fast one could click the ‘register’ button without logging out of the web page and bearing the fatal consequence of a two-hour queue. My hands trembled and sweat dripped from my forehead as I clicked on the fat green ‘register’ icon as fast as humanly possible. However, with thousands of others around the globe, I witnessed in horror as my screen was immediately redirected to a page that said “wait for further instructions.”

International ACT tests, unlike the national tests, were online-based; each student was forced to take the test in a designated computer lab while clicking on the correct answers. Cyrus Wong ’22, another Loomis student who took the recent ACT internationally, said that the colleges’ test-optional decisions have only compromised the logistics of these online tests.

“Cancellations and delays put lots of pressure on me,” said Cyrus, referring to a two-week-long delay in the release of ACT score reports. The ACT released an email that said, “Scoring system enhancements have pushed out the start of our typical score release window,” referring to the delay in result release. One cannot help but wonder if this incident was directly related to the sudden increase in September ACT test-takers.

While many colleges have officially waived the standardized testing requirements, students nonetheless feel self-pressured to have impressive results because of the increasingly selective trend over the past years. Combined with the cancellation of previous tests, stress due to standardized testing persists. The precarious situation of these past months, coupled with a failure by colleges to diminish student stress, have contributed to stress shared amongst all college applicants around the world. Along with millions of high school students, I can only hope that this nightmare of logistical incompetence doesn’t stick around for long.