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University removes SAT, ACT writing requirement

New University policy hopes to provide greater access for students from low-income backgrounds

Applicants to the class of 2023 will no longer be required to submit the essay portion of the SAT or ACT, according to a University press release. In lieu of an SAT or ACT essay, applicants will be encouraged — but not required — to submit a graded paper they wrote for a high school humanities course. Dean of Admission Logan Powell said this policy change comes in response to the rapid growth of school-day SAT and ACT tests, which some schools administer to their students free of charge during school hours.

School-day SAT testing “has grown exponentially over the last few years,” Powell said. “This started in one high school about nine years ago, and it’s now in 8,000 high schools around the country.” At the same time, 19 states currently fund school-day ACT testing, according to Powell. But since providing the optional writing section costs more, around 30 percent of school-day SAT testing opportunities and about half of school-day ACT opportunities do not include the essay portion, Powell said. “That landscape changed so quickly that we had to respond to it,” he added.

Previously, students who took school-day tests without the essay portion would not fulfill the old writing requirement. These students would need to pay to take the SAT or ACT with the essay portion on a Saturday, Powell explained. This would  cost $64.50 for the SAT with writing or $67.00 for the ACT with writing this year.

Although some low-income students qualify for fee waivers to cover these costs, students with other obligations — such as work, sports or family responsibilities — may have trouble taking an exam on a Saturday, Powell said.

“This policy change made the most sense for all the students who might be thinking about applying to Brown,” Powell said. “We think it provides much greater access for students from low-income backgrounds (and) rural backgrounds.”

Current first-year students who were required to submit the SAT or ACT writing portion agreed that this policy change will make applying to the University more financially accessible. “Removing that barrier to entry is probably better for the University’s goals” than keeping the writing requirement, said Adam Furman ’22, who took a school-day SAT with essay. “If I was considering Brown and none of the other schools I was looking at required (the SAT or ACT essay portion), I might think twice before applying.”

Grace Ouedraogo ’22, who did not have access to a school-day testing opportunity, felt the writing requirement was unnecessary. “We already have the Common (Application) essay and the other Brown essays,” she said. “I think that’s enough.”

Although students no longer need to submit SAT or ACT essays, “we still deeply value writing,” Powell said. In order to provide applicants “an opportunity to showcase their writing ability in a way that doesn’t cost them any money or any additional time,” the Admission Office will allow students to upload a graded paper — preferably with comments from an instructor — to their Brown applicant portal, Powell explained.

Nathaniel Hardy ’22 said he thought a graded paper from high school would more closely resemble college-level writing than the SAT essay or other application portions. “The Common App essay is basically a creative writing assignment,” he said. “An actual argumentative piece written for school is a lot better than the SAT.”

The University announced its decision to make the SAT or ACT essay optional soon after other universities — including Harvard and Yale — dropped their writing requirements. Powell said the University’s decision was not influenced by policy changes at other schools.“We were really responding to what we were seeing in the national landscape for secondary schools, seeing the growth in school-day testing around the country,” he said.

The University’s writing requirement has changed three times since the SAT essay first became an optional portion of the test in March 2016. The SAT or ACT writing section was made optional for the class of 2021 but required for the class of 2022, The Herald previously reported. Powell explained that last year’s switch to requiring the SAT or ACT writing portion was part of a move to eliminate a more inconvenient and costly testing policy — the requirement that students submit either the ACT or the SAT with two SAT subject tests. This meant that students in areas where only the SAT is offered had to sit for at least two test administrations while students with access to the ACT only needed to take one test. “That policy seemed unfair structurally,” Powell said.

Now that both SAT subject tests and the SAT or ACT essay have been made optional for applicants to the class of 2023, “we think this is the right balance based on the national landscape of testing policy,” Powell said. But he added that the testing policy — and the application as a whole — is reevaluated every year.

“We shouldn’t be locked into a particular testing policy if it doesn’t make sense for our applicants,” Powell said. “We change that policy as necessary to be fair and to provide access.”


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