Prominent US school drops requirement for SAT, ACT tests

Prominent US school drops requirement for SAT, ACT tests
Students leave after an SAT at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong in 2013. Chinese students form the largest overseas group at US universities.
PHOTO: China Daily/ANN

George Washington University in the United States recently dropped its requirement for some standardized tests in recruitment, sparking discussion among educators about the admission criteria of universities around the world.

Since August, students applying for undergraduate admission to the university are not required to submit Scholastic Assessment Test or American College Test scores, the private university located in Washington DC said in a statement on its website.

The decision was made at the suggestion of the Access Committee of the university's Task Force on Access and Success. The task force found that students' success is predicted more by their academic record in high school than by SAT or ACT scores.

"Although we have long employed a holistic application review process, we had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance," Karen Stroud Felton, the university's dean of admissions, said in the statement.

"We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds - regardless of their standardized scores - to recognise GW as a place where they can thrive," Felton said.

Yang Donghao, consulting manager of US undergraduate programs at Chivast Education International, an overseas study consultancy in Beijing, said George Washington's decision sent a strong signal to universities in the US and around the world.

"On the surface, admission criteria seem to have been lowered, as an increasing number of universities in the US and the world are dropping standardized test results in recruitment," he said.

"Actually, they are raising the bar by paying more attention to the overall performance of the applicants by interviewing the students and looking at application documents, including their grade-point average, personal statements, recommendation letters and so forth."

This statement by George Washington said: "High school coursework and grades will continue to be the most important factors in GW's holistic review process, along with a student's writing skills, recommendations, involvement in school and community and personal qualities and character."

The move follows a trend, as "hundreds of colleges" throughout the US have adopted a similar format to review applicants, the university said.

George Washington, with an average undergraduate enrollment of 10,000 and an acceptance rate of 34 per cent, is the third to drop the test requirement this summer and is one of most prestigious schools to do so, according to a report in USA Today.

Yang said the universities, especially good ones, chose to drop the requirement because they need more effective approaches to assess and select students, as applicants are scoring higher and higher in standardized tests.

"It's getting increasingly difficult to judge students," Yang said, so some universities are "paying greater attention to students' skills, personalities and virtues".

"Interviews will play a bigger role in selecting students," Yang said.

A similar trend has been seen at universities in other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom.

Graeme May, deputy head of Abingdon School, an independent school in Oxfordshire, said that some universities in the UK, including the University of Cambridge, have started paying equal or more attention to students' abilities and skills beyond performance in standardized tests.

Abingdon has been helping its students - 1,000 in total and 5 per cent from China - to gain admission to some of the best universities in the UK and across the world. "Interviews are very important," he said.

However, some educators are cautious.

Maggie Dallman, associate provost at Imperial College London, one of the best universities in the UK, said interviews can give a school a lot of information about applicants, but the information is only additive.

"In the UK, we don't have the SAT or ACT tests like they do in the US, but we have A-levels, IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program) and some other qualifications," she said.

"We have to know that they can perform to a very high academic standard and can make the most of university life," Dallman said, adding that Imperial College will not lower or cancel the requirement for a high academic qualification.

Yu Minhong, chairman of New Oriental Education & Technology Group, said that universities will not give up the requirement for Chinese students' standardized test results, because "other application materials are not so reliable as test results".

"After all, compared with cheating in standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, forging recommendation letters, personal statements and different kinds of certificates is frequent," he said.

He said he believed that most universities will still hold to the current approach: students should first reach a threshold in standardized tests, and then interviews can be conducted to look further at whether the applicants fit the university or not.

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