Colleges Reject “Writing” Test

University Testing

The growing resistance to the College Board’s “new” SAT is readily apparent in a recent survey by its admissions testing rival, ACT. Responding to an ACT questionnaire, fewer than one out of five four-year colleges and universities reported that they will require “writing” test scores from students seeking admission in the fall of 2006. That is the first class of high school graduates who will take the latest revision of the SAT, which includes a mandatory “Writing” section (see Examiner, Spring-Summer 2002, Summer 2004).


ACT will also offer a “writing” test beginning in late winter 2005, but as an extra-cost option to its traditional exam. The fee for the basic ACT is $28. Students signing up for the ACT Plus Writing will pay an additional $14. Starting with the March 12, 2005 administration, all SAT test-takers will pay $41.50 and have no choice about taking the “Writing” exam, whether or not they are applying to colleges that require it.


More than two-thirds of baccalaureate degree granting schools responded to the ACT survey. Fully 63 percent of colleges said they will not require applicants to submit either company’s “writing” test. Typical was Brigham Young University Director of Admissions Tom Gourley, who stated, “We’re satisfied with the information we currently require . . . We don’t see a need to require students to incur the additional expense and time of taking a writing test at this time.” Southwestern University Senior Associate Director of Admission Mike Rossman spoke for many institutions by adding, “[W]e already have a required essay as a part of our application process and feel that it meets our needs well.”


Another 20 percent of colleges reported that they will recommend but not require the additional exam. ACT has posted a searchable database listing “writing” test requirements of colleges and universities online at


Facing resistance in the admissions market, the College Board has turned to justifying the mandatory SAT “Writing” test as a high school reform tool. But most state assessment systems already include similar short essays in their testing programs, administered to all students, not just the college bound. Thus, the additional exam is not needed for that purpose any more than it is required for effective college admissions. Further, studies show that short, respond-to-a-prompt questions undermine rather than enhance the quality of student writing.


Combined with Sarah Lawrence’s recent decision to join the more than 700 colleges that do not require submission of any test scores by significant portions of their applicants before admissions decisions are made (see Examiner, Spring-Summer 2004; Fall 2002) the widespread rejection of any required “writing” test demonstrates that school officials increasingly recognize that scores add little if anything to an applicant’s portfolio.