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Editorial: Optional test essays are a step in the right direction

Many students choose to matriculate at Brown because of its unique approach toward education, or at least because of the educational ideology it touts. Of all of the Ivy League schools, Brown seems to be the one that focuses most on learning as a process of exploration. We see that attitude reflected in our ability to choose classes without having to fulfill core requirements, the option to take classes Satisfactory/No Credit and opportunities to design our own concentrations. This educational model embraces the idea that there are many different outlets for intelligence, and it is alright for different people to excel in different ways. The open curriculum allows students to study what strikes their passions.

This is why we celebrate the University’s decision to make standardized test essay scores optional for applicants starting with the class of 2021. While this decision mirrors that of the College Board to make the essay optional, only half of Ivy League schools have followed suit. We are proud to be on the side that did.

There are many obvious reasons for doing away with the mandatory nature of this section. Taking the test without the essay lowers its cost from $56.50 to $39.50, the essay format disproportionately favored students who came from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and the score seemed to not correlate with eventual success in college. We are happy with this step forward — however small — that places less importance on easily gamed standardized testing in the college admission process.

While the College Board has stated that the essay did not add validity to the admission process, it maintains on its website that the multiple choice section of standardized tests is “deeply predictive of college success.” Yet there is evidence that contradicts this assertion: data reported from the increasing number of test-optional colleges.

William Hiss, former dean of admission at Bates College, tracked the grade point averages and graduation rates of students who did and did not submit test results over several years and found a negligible difference. According to his research, high school GPA is a much more accurate reflection of how well a student will do in college. With all of the problems that accompany standardized testing, such as the fact that it advantages white and Asian students over black, Native and Latino students, we find that its lack of predictive assistance in the Office of Admission means that more harm comes with its emphasis than good.

We take this moment to celebrate the small victory of the University making the essay section optional. For many of us, the best part of attending Brown is going to school with such a diverse pool of peers who represent many different areas of intelligence and interest. This diversity of the student body gives us a unique chance to learn from one another and makes our four years here a dynamic and interesting experience. Any step that the Admission Office takes to eliminate uniformity in the selection process is a step that will only enhance that experience.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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