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Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, critics have long called for the elimination of standardized test requirements in the college application process.
Scores, they argued, are correlated with wealth more than anything else. The schools that nixed their requirements argued that standardized tests sometimes didn’t paint a full picture of students’ academic abilities.
But at the University, and nearly every other Ivy-plus institution, testing requirements persisted — until the pandemic. Last spring, every Ivy League school stopped requiring standardized tests, at least temporarily, seemingly all at once.
The University’s announcement came in June 2020, that it, too, would not require standardized test scores for first-year applicants, citing the difficulties that students faced in trying to take a test amid the pandemic. In February 2021, the Office of Admission extended the policy for another year, announcing that applicants to the class of 2026 would not have to submit a score.
Moving to a test-optional system was likely a factor in the significant jump in applications at highly competitive schools. Dean of Admissions Logan Powell has previously attributed the record-high number of applicants in recent seasons to the uncertainty produced by the policy, among others instituted in response to the pandemic.
The University has not released official numbers on how many students applied, or were admitted, without a test score. TyKerius Monford ’25, a business economics concentrator from Athens, Georgia said he was one of them.
He first attempted the SAT in tenth grade, and gave the ACT a try in 11th. He didn’t study for either, attempting to use them as a “diagnostic” for what he could achieve before taking relevant coursework.
“With studying, and taking more classes, I could have addressed (the tests) better,” he said.
And he tried: One test he had planned for his senior fall during the pandemic was about an hour away from his house. And then, on the morning of the test, he woke up to news that the testing center had moved to a location 90 minutes away. He quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to get there on time — and said he thought the change in location would also throw him off.
“It wasn’t fair for me to have that change the day of,” Monford said.
Mikael Obiomah ’25, a political science and economics concentrator, said he last took a standardized test as a junior in high school — the Preliminary SAT, on which he scored a 1240.
“I’m not a great test-taker in general,” he said. Still, he was scheduled to take the SAT four separate times near his hometown of Taunton, Massachusetts. All four times, it was cancelled. The final time it was cancelled, he said, his college admissions counselor at his high school advised him to skip the process as a whole, relying instead on his grades and other academic achievements.
“The logic doesn’t make sense to me that there’s all these expectations placed on one test,” Obiomah said. “These tests are standardized (nationally), but every different state has a different method of teaching subjects.”
Sofia Barnett ’25, a prospective political science concentrator from Frisco, Texas, said she took a standardized test at the beginning of her junior year of high school. But her math score was below her target — and the pandemic led her to begin working a full-time job, making it difficult to prepare for a second go at a test in her free time. Barnett ultimately did not submit a score.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to study and do test prep,” she said. “My family was in crisis. I had to work so we could afford things.”
Monford said that financial considerations also played into his test-taking experience: He couldn’t afford any test prep classes, and he hadn’t learned good study habits outside of memorization in high school. His method of studying for the SAT consisted of “taking a few practice tests.”
But other students, such as Dhruv Anand ’25, said that they submitted a test score with their application. He took his SAT at the beginning of tenth grade, and the ACT the next summer, scoring well enough to finish his test process before the onset of the pandemic.
“If you do submit them, you only have something to gain, was the thought process I was going through,” he said.
Ayaka Ono ’25 said she took the ACT three times, submitting a score because she was concerned that as an international student, she needed to prove she was at the “same academic standing” as domestic students.
Barnett said she worried that her lack of test scores would count against her when she submitted her application.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “My stats weren’t the best.”
Monford added that he was deferred from his state school, the University of Georgia, and said he thought that not submitting test scores there may have impacted the decision he received.
“It made me really nervous applying to Brown without scores,” he noted.
But Katrina Souder, an admission officer for the University who reads applications from parts of Manhattan, Staten Island and counties in central New Jersey, said that the University sees test scores as just “part of a bigger conversation about academics.”
“We’re not in the business of trying to mislead (students) when we say things on our website,” she said. “When we say something is optional, we mean it’s optional. … We want (students) to be able to present the best application they can.”
Test scores, she added, are just part of the “story” that she sees on an application. And while test-optional policies are new to the University, Souder was quick to note that it isn’t new in higher education: Schools like Bowdoin College in Maine have been test-optional since 1969.
The University, she said, doesn’t advise individual students on whether they should apply with or without a test score. Instead, they suggest that students speak to their school counselor or another adult who might understand the context of their individual school better. But if a student does ask her whether or not they should submit a score, Souder will instead respond with questions: Are they proud of their scores? Do they think that the test scores line up with the “academic story” on their transcript?
“Our admission process doesn’t have cutoffs,” Souder said. “There’s no guide that says, ‘I need this GPA and these test scores and I’ll get admitted.’”
The University has yet to announce if it will again require standardized test scores next year. According to the Office of Admission’s website, the policy “will be evaluated again before the 2022-2023 application cycle begins.”
Will Kubzansky is the 133rd editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald. Previously, he served as a University News editor overseeing the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.