A Response to NYTimes Article “Testing, Testing”: Don’t Rock the Boat

Earlier this August, The New York Times published an article that has created quite a stir in the college admissions world. Tamar Lewin’s “Testing, Testing” suggests that, for those applying to Ivy League schools, one standardized test may not be enough. The article suggests that these students should consider submitting both SAT and ACT scores. However, the evidence is ambiguous at best, and potentially harmful at worst.

The central argument of the article boils down to an ambiguous axiom presented by Princeton Dean of Admissions Janet Rapelye that “more information is always better.” She continues that “if students choose one or the other [test], that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information.” Lewin interprets this statement to mean that a student applying to an Ivy League may need to consider submitting both SAT and ACT scores to be seriously considered for admission. But can we infer so much from such a statement? How much is that “little more information” worth when compared with the other facets of a student’s application?

Colleges love data, and they are willing to pay the big bucks to get as much data about student types as possible (see “Love Matters: Show Colleges You Care”). The more information a student provides, the more precisely a college can determine how well that student will fit with the school and how likely that student is to attend if accepted. For highly selective schools, not only grades and admission test scores but also the essay, class rank, recommendations, demonstrated interest, extracurricular activities, SAT II/AP scores, interview, and work experience all combine to present one, hopefully powerful, argument to an admissions officer (see NACAC’s State of College Admissions 2012, 36). Yes, more information is always better; however, we have no data that assigns two test scores a higher value than any other data point in an applicant’s packet.

Lewin’s article laments that students and families are giving up precious time in high school to test and retest, seeking a score that will set them a little higher in an admissions officer’s estimation. That point is well-made and must be stressed. Students put the cart before the horse if they sacrifice the extracurricular activities, sports, and studies they enjoy in order to continually take and retake standardized tests. Yet Lewin’s article and its ambiguous claims encourage that very behavior, with nothing but anecdotal inferences as the basis. Rapelye’s comment gives no support to Lewin’s thesis. In fact, later in the article, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons comments that “it doesn’t concern us at all whether students send the SAT, the ACT or both.” Such conflicting statements should ease students’ minds about the one test, two test discussion.

The takeaway is that until more credible information arises, we should not change our admissions strategy. Get the best score you can, then move on. Life is filled with too many other meaningful “data points” to spend too much time on this one.

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