Upon applying to Kenyon as a transfer student this year, I noticed something curious. Despite statements from President Joe Biden that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Kenyon still has not changed their policy of not requiring standardized test scores for incoming students. (That requirement was lifted due to inconsistent testing during the pandemic.) This struck me as odd for such an elite institution. Then I did some Googling and found that no Ivy League college currently requires an SAT or ACT score, which they have done in hopes of approaching potential students more holistically. However, I believe that intelligence should be part of that holistic approach. It should not be the whole reason a student gets admitted, but it certainly should be a large piece of it.
Now, I say “intelligence,” and many people are probably thinking, “But that’s what GPA is for!” But I don’t think that’s the case. GPA measures work ethic and some level of intelligence. Because high school grades are delivered in semesters or trimesters, students can work hard to compensate for any lacking skills. The same is not true of a standardized test lasting just a few hours. A standardized test measures raw critical thinking skills. Though there are valid criticisms of the tests in their current forms, the efficacy of standardized testing should not be undermined. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, which is what we are doing currently.
It has been proven that SAT scores and IQ are positively correlated, and that test scores are a predictor of future college success. GPA is also a predictor of college success and an important part of the admissions process, but, as mentioned previously, it measures something different from standardized tests. And that doesn’t factor in the matter of GPA inflation in high schools. While GPAs are steadily increasing across high schools, scores on more objective assessments like NAEP studies or the SAT are remaining steady or even declining.
The first objection one might have to this argument is the common claim that standardized tests are biased against low income and minority students. This is true and often attributed to test prep, though the effects of test prep specifically are often overstated. However, by eliminating test scores from college admissions, we attempt to solve a bottom-up problem with a top-down remedy. The problem is not the
tests; the tests are for skills of intelligence. The problem is that poor schools are so underfunded that they are not developing these skills, with the majority of 12th graders testing into the lowest percentiles of reading ability being from low-income families.
Not to mention, there is considerable protest from parents of Asian students against the removal of standardized testing requirements in universities as well as the removal of merit-based entrance exams for competitive middle and high schools. Eliminating merit-based systems disadvantages those who score well on tests while the people who benefit most from eliminated test scores are students whose work ethic outweighs their intelligence. There’s no doubt that work ethic is important, but at an institution like Kenyon, intelligence should be just as important.
And so, my proposition is that, as a first step in rectifying this issue, Kenyon (and other elite universities) should require test scores as part of prospective students’ applications. By approaching students “holistically,” these schools actually disadvantage students whose intelligence may be shown through test scores, as their scores cannot be compared to their peers, and advantage those who might not flourish at a school like Kenyon. A student with a 3.5 GPA and 33 ACT should be judged fairly against a student with a 4.0 GPA and a 24 ACT. Similarly, two students with the same GPA and differing test scores should be judged fairly against one another. By eliminating the requirement of submitting test scores, the two elements cannot balance each other out to create the holistic view of the student that elite colleges claim to desire. Removal of the requirement is what makes the playing field unfair for students, not the reverse.
Alex Johnson ’24 is an English major from Libertyville, Ill. He can be reached at email@example.com.