Students, applicants respond to Penn’s changed testing requirements

Even students who have already been accepted to Penn believe its new standardized testing requirements are in applicants’ best interests.

Penn’s Admissions Office recently altered its standardized testing policy, removing the required submission of the essay portion of ACT and SAT scores. Most students and experts consider it a good change — it takes out the subjectivity of grading an essay and is more accessible to international and English as a Second Language students.

College freshman Chris Denq said that eliminating the essay requirement will direct students’ concentration more towards other sections and subjects of standardized tests. “You can definitely study a lot better,” he said.

International students also see benefits to the change. “Considering that the SAT is a standardized way for testing people from different countries, it makes sense that you’re taking the essay requirement away because it can be very subjective,” said College junior Isabella Rahm, who is Swedish but graduated from high school in New Delhi.

The University cited increased accessibility to underrepresented students as a reason for eliminating the essay portion of the SAT. In a press release, Senior Associate Director for Research and Analysis John McLaughlin said that the new policy will allow more first-generation, Latino and black applicants to meet testing requirements.

“We aim to make a Penn education accessible to the world’s most promising and impactful young scholars,” Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said.

Early decision applicants for the Class of 2020 expressed relief at not having to worry about the writing section.

“I think it makes the application a lot more approachable,” Palos Verdes Peninsula High School senior Leea Joo said. “A big load of weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.”

Van Nuys High School senior Joe Lee agreed, also expressing concern of standardized tests’ ability to judge students’ capabilities.

“I’m glad this policy was changed, but personally, I feel that the SAT is a misrepresentation of what a student can offer,” he said. “I think extracurriculars are very important and really demonstrate who a student is.”

Brian Taylor, director of New York-based college consulting firm Ivy Coach, does not believe the change will positively benefit economically disadvantaged students, suggesting that with or without the essay, they have the same level of potential to do well on the exam.

“How does it make it more fair [economically]? It doesn’t. They’re still requiring other sections,” he said. ”[The essay] definitely is one of the more coachable sections of the SAT. You can go in there with a prompt, what you’re going to write about, and no matter what that prompt is, you can write about that subject. That is what any good SAT taker would do.”

Rahm, the student from New Delhi, shares the opinion that there is more to consider beyond the SAT and its essay. “[It] is only one method of testing students, but it’s definitely not the only way,” she said. “The SAT doesn’t test your ability in the [subject] areas, but it tests how well you test — how you go about answering questions, how quick you are.”

When the College Board implemented the writing section to the SAT ten years ago, many were convinced that admission officers would compare students’ SAT essays to the personal statement included in the Common Application, Taylor said.

“When you have 25 minutes to complete [the essay], it will not be the same as the type of writing that you would have if you had unlimited time to write a personal statement,” he explained. “The fact is that admission officers often didn’t compare the two samples. There wasn’t as much value as what people thought there would be.”

Taylor added that illegible penmanship served as another setback. “It is very hard to decipher high school handwriting,” he said.

With college application season fast approaching, the effect of the new testing requirements on Penn’s incoming class will not be clear until decisions are released.

“It’s a change that should be seen in the long term. It would be difficult to measure its effectiveness in a year from now,” Rahm said.


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