U Cal May Drop SAT Subject Tests

University Testing

FairTest Examiner - April 2008

The University of California (UC), arguably the nation’s most prestigious public higher education system, may soon stop requiring applicants to submit scores from College Board SAT Subject Tests. The policy change could have national implications.

The proposal to end the testing mandate is part of a broad undergraduate eligibility reform proposal from the UC Academic Senate’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS). The plan results from more than two years of detailed analysis of the value of the Subject Tests. The research found that the requirement undermined the depth and diversity of the UC student body without contributing significantly to its academic quality.

Currently all UC applicants must take the SAT plus two Subject Tests of their own choosing. The Subject Tests are one hour, multiple-choice exams in literature, math, history, science and various languages.

Yet, UC research has consistently found that high school grades are a stronger predictor of undergraduate academic performance than any test (see Examiner, July 2007). Moreover, many strong applicants were excluded from UC consideration simply because they had not taken the Subject Tests.

BOARS concluded that eliminating this hurdle would open the nine UC undergraduate campuses to more otherwise qualified students. Applicants from underserved minority and low-income families whose schools may not have encouraged them to take Subject Tests should particularly benefit.

Expect to see the College Board pull out all stops in an attempt to block this initiative. The California market is crucial: In the high school class of 2007 more than 36% of all Subject Tests were administered in that one state. If UC were to drop Subject Tests, barely six dozen colleges and universities in the country would still ask for them. The potential "domino effect" of some or all of the remaining schools eliminating the Subject Test requirement could cost the College Board tens of millions in revenue.

Another potential loser is the coaching industry, which does a substantial business in Subject Test preparation in California. Because these exams are short and entirely multiple-choice, coaching companies claim that large score increases are relatively easy to produce. The fact that such firms are widespread in upper-income communities is another reason for dropping the Subject Test requirement. Relying heavily on the Subject Tests to determine UC eligibility further tilts the playing field in favor of the students who have had the greatest advantages in life.

UC faculty members have until early May of this year to comment on the proposal. Further action is likely this fall.

The BOARS’ proposal to end the Subject Test requirement is online at: