Yale may change standardized testing requirements

Tyler Foggatt

April 24, 2015

In March of last year, the College Board announced its commitment to a redesigned SAT that is “more open and clear” than any previous version of the exam. In light of the future change, Yale is evaluating its standardized testing requirements.

Stacy Caldwell, vice president for the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT, said that beginning in March 2016, the SAT will more closely resemble the type of work expected in college. The redesigned SAT will have a stronger emphasis on evidence-based reasoning, include a more specific math section, shift away from obscure vocabulary to terms that students will see more often in college, and return to the 1,600-point scale.

Additionally, the redesigned SAT will include an optional essay, which Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the University is “strongly considering” requiring.

“It’s been discussed by the faculty committee on admissions and financial aid,” Quinlan said. “And it’s been discussed by Admissions Office staff. There are a few more discussions that need to be made before we make a final decision.”

He added that the University will announce its decision in early May.

Yale currently requires applicants to either submit test scores from the ACT Plus Writing Test, or the SAT and any two SAT subject tests.

Caldwell said that while the current essay on the SAT asks students to take a position on a concept or question and then support that position using evidence, the new essay will give students authentic source texts to evaluate. Students will then be expected to analyze how the author of the source text uses evidence to support his or her point of view, she added.

“It’s closer to the type of writing that students will be doing in college,” Caldwell said.

Quinlan noted that the objective of the new section is to analyze arguments in the text and to think critically about argument construction and sourcing, which are “two critical building blocks” for a successful Yale education.

Caldwell added that although the new essay section will be optional, the writing section is still mandatory. The redesigned SAT will comprised a math section and an evidence-based reading and writing section, both worth 800 points apiece.

Some institutions, such as the University of California schools, have already made the decision to require the essay section of the redesigned SAT, effective in the spring of 2016.

Brian Taylor, director of The Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said most schools will probably choose to require the optional essay portion.

“We believe every highly selective college will require the optional writing section,” Taylor said. “That probably won’t be unique to Yale. That’s the case with the ACT as well. The writing section is optional, but it’s been required by highly selective colleges since the beginning of time.”

All five students interviewed said it makes sense for the University to require the optional SAT essay in the same way that the optional ACT essay is required, but only three said they believe the changes to the essay will result in a better overall SAT.

John-Paul Pigeon ’17 said he prefers the writing section as is, since it allows students to exercise more creativity depending on the prompt. Pigeon said the new section may more closely mimic college writing, but that argument analysis is just a slightly duller way of evaluating a student’s writing skills.

“I’m in favor of the changes because the questions they ask on the essay are usually pretty broad and not based on anything substantial,” Siddhi Surana ’17 said. “But using a source text works more to the strengths that are taught in school, like critical reading analysis, which makes the redesigned essay section more relevant.”

For the 2014–15 academic year, SAT writing score ranges in the 25th to 75th percentiles for enrolled students were between 720 and 800 points.