Four in 10 Students Think Standardized Tests Are a Good Measure of College Readiness

More than half of students BestColleges surveyed (52%) say all schools should adopt a test-optional policy.
By
portrait of Lyss Welding
Lyss Welding
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Published on November 2, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Reece Johnson
Reece Johnson
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Reece Johnson is the editorial director for news and data. He writes about the future of work and higher education, student political activism, and expanding educational opportunities. Reece holds a master's degree from Columbia University and a bach...
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: FangXiaNuo / E+ / Getty Images


Data Summary

  • Check
    Less than half of students (47%) say that the use of standardized test scores to assess applicants in college admissions is fair.
  • Check
    Among students who submitted standardized test scores to a college, 56% say their score may have helped their chances of getting accepted to the school of their choice.
  • Check
    However, 34% say their score may have hurt their chances.
  • Check
    2 in 3 students (66%) say they were required to take a standardized test to qualify for admission to at least one school where they applied.
  • Check
    Just 38% of college students say standardized test scores should be required in college admissions.
  • Check
    One-quarter of students (24%) took a standardized test even though they weren’t required to for the college of their choice.

This report is part of BestColleges' 2023 College Choice and Admissions Survey.

SAT participation increased roughly 10% between 2022 and 2023. However, college students are questioning the validity and fairness of using standardized tests in college admissions.

Of the 1,000 current undergraduates and graduate students BestColleges surveyed, roughly 4 in 10 (43%) say that standardized tests are a good measure of college readiness. Twenty-seven percent disagree, and 30% are neutral.

Over half of students (52%) are in favor of all schools adopting a test-optional policy. Just 17% disagree, and 32% are neutral.

One-third of students surveyed in BestColleges' 2023 College Choice and Admissions Survey (33%) say standardized test scores should be one of the top three factors colleges consider in an applicant. Students rank test scores as less important than grades or college admissions essays but more important than extracurricular activities.

Less Than Half of Students Say Standardized Tests Are Fair

Among students who submitted standardized test scores to a college, the majority (56%) say their scores may have helped their chances of getting accepted to the school of their choice. Fewer (34%) say their scores may have hurt their chances.

Still, less than half of students (47%) say the use of standardized test scores to assess applicants in college admissions is fair.

While it's up for debate if standardized test scores are a good measure of college readiness, data shows that scores tend to correlate with students' race and family income level.

Recently, The New York Times reported on the correlation between high SAT and ACT scores and family income. The analysis showed that SAT takers from the top quintile of earners were seven times as likely as those in the bottom quintile to score a 1300 or above.

Standardized test prep can be expensive, from books and practice tests to online courses and tutoring. Additionally, taking — and retaking —tests and sending scores to schools costs money. Students from wealthier households might have greater access to these resources.

Standardized Tests Remain Popular, if Not Preferred

Despite their criticisms of standardized tests, most students report taking one of these tests for college admissions —whether they were required to or not.

Two in 3 students (66%) say they were required to take a standardized test to qualify for admission to at least one school where they applied. Nearly one-quarter of students (24%) took a standardized test even though they weren’t required to for the college of their choice.

That leaves just 10% of college students saying they did not take a standardized test for college admissions.

While a large majority of college students say they were required to take a standardized test, just 38% say standardized test scores should be required in college admissions. Thirty-one percent disagree, and another 31% are neutral.

Students might choose to send their scores to a test-optional college if they're applying for a merit-based scholarship or looking to boost the rest of their application with an above-average score.

Methodology

This survey was conducted from Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2023, and was fielded by Pure Spectrum. Survey participants included 1,000 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in an on-campus, online, or hybrid undergraduate or graduate degree program. Respondents were 17-49 years of age, with the majority (95%) ages 18-38, and currently pursuing an associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.