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The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing in Higher Education featured image

The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing in Higher Education

Across schools in North America, a spotlight has rightfully been put on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within admission practices and policies. 

However, enrollment data suggests that, despite recruitment efforts, there’s much more to be done. As an example, there is a 31%-point gap in college enrollment between 18- to 24-year-olds in the highest and lowest family income quartiles. 

To tackle this, many Admissions departments have implemented DEI initiatives to attract and support underrepresented groups. One key strategy gaining traction is removing standardized testing in the admissions process. In this blog we will explore what standardized testing is and dig into the pros and cons of standardized testing for schools and students alike.

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What is standardized testing in higher ed? 

Standardized tests are used by Admissions departments as part of the application process for colleges and universities. They are designed to provide an objective measure of a student’s academic skills and potential, ensuring that students are assessed using the same criteria. 

The most common standardized tests for undergraduate admissions are: 

  • SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test): This test primarily evaluates a student’s skills in mathematics, evidence-based reading, and writing. 
  • ACT (American College Testing): This test assesses skills in English, math, reading, and science reasoning. There’s also an optional writing section. 

The most common standardized tests for graduate admissions are: 

  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination): This is a general often required for admission to many graduate school programs across various fields. It assesses verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. 
  • GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test): This test is used for admission to MBA programs and some other business-related graduate programs. It measures quantitative, verbal, analytical writing, and integrated reasoning skills. 

What colleges & universities have dropped standardized testing? 

The use of standardized tests in admissions has become a hot topic of debate. Critics argue that these tests may not fully capture a student’s potential, can favor those with resources for test preparation, and may perpetuate certain biases. (More on why standardized testing is bad later on). 

In response to these concerns, many schools have adopted test-optional policies – allowing students to choose whether or not to submit their test scores – or test-blind policies – not factoring in test scores into the application decision. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend, it has continued to gain traction. According to FairTest’s website, there are currently 1,900 colleges in the US that offer test-optional or test-blind policies for students seeking to enroll in Fall 2024 or beyond. Some of these schools include

  • Brown University 
  • Columbia University 
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College 
  • Harvard University 
  • John Hopkins University 
  • Princeton University 
  • The University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania 
  • Yale University 

To give a balanced and nuanced image to this debate, let’s dig into the pros of standardized testing, and then the cons of standardized testing. 

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The pros and cons of standardized testing

Pros of standardized testing

The debate around standardized tests is complex and nuanced with parties on both sides arguing the pros and cons of standardized testing for students and schools. Let’s begin by exploring the pros of standardized testing and understanding what the benefits of standardized testing are to both students and schools.

  1. Objective benchmark: Standardized tests provide schools with a consistent measure that can be compared across all students. This allows them to evaluate students from diverse educational systems and backgrounds on a common scale, helping to make the admissions process fairer and remove biases. This is particularly helpful when comparing students from different educational systems, particularly internationally. 
  2. Predictive value: Some studies have shown that standardized test scores, especially when combined with high school GPA, can be a strong predictor of first-year college performance and the likelihood of returning for sophomore year. 
  3. Identify potential: Standardized testing can offer opportunities for students from lesser-known schools or from schools with grade inflation to demonstrate their abilities and so improve their application. It also helps students who may not be strong test-takers but are otherwise strong candidates. 
  4. Comprehensive evaluation: While high school grades might reflect a student’s hard work and determination, standardized tests can evaluate specific skills and knowledge, providing a more comprehensive picture of a student’s academic preparedness. 
  5. Accountability: They can serve as a check to ensure that high schools are teaching the fundamental skills and knowledge students will need in higher education. 

Cons of standardized testing 

Now that we’ve looked into the pros of standardized testing, let’s explore the cons of standardized testing to understand why many colleges are partially or fully removing them from the application process. 

  1. Socio-economic bias: The key reason why standardized testing is bad according to many critics is its inherent bias towards lower income students. Many argue that the tests favor students from more affluent backgrounds who can afford expensive test preparation courses, tutors, and multiple test attempts. Critics would therefore argue that the tests are perpetuating systemic inequities in higher education access. 
  2. Cultural bias: There are concerns that the structure, language, content, and questions of the tests may give an advantage to students from particular cultural backgrounds over others. While test makers have made efforts to mitigate these biases, some believe they persist. 
  3. Limited scope: One of the major cons of standardized testing is the limited scope of evaluation. The tests primarily assess specific academic skills and don’t capture a student’s full range of abilities, talents, or potential.
  4. Narrowing of school curriculum: High schools might feel compelled to “teach to the test” to boost their students’ performance, possibly at the expense of a broader and more holistic education.
  5. Cost: Taking standardized tests can be expensive, especially when factoring in registration fees, traveling to testing centers, and purchasing preparatory materials or courses. 


The debate around the pros and cons of standardized testing rages on. While many believe the tests still have a valuable contribution to the admissions process, for others, the cons of standardized testing outweigh all the benefits. 

Do you work in Admissions and are looking for more inspiration and insight? Take a look at our latest Admissions Report that surveyed hundreds of prospective students on what they look for in a potential school. 

Higher Ed Admissions Report – Prospective Student Survey

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Kate Rogerson

About Kate Rogerson

Kate is the Content Marketing Manager at Comm100. She has extensive experience in content creation for technology companies across the world, including the UK, Australia and Canada. She specializes in B2B messaging, branding and soccer trivia.