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SAT/ACT Essay Writing Tests Optional But Recommended. What Does It Really Mean?

The SAT/ACT essay writing continues to pose a dilemma for students applying to U.S. schools. What began as an initiative to reform the principles of evaluating students now is an optional requirement that quickly loses relevance.

Many students were shocked to learn that most U.S. colleges and universities dropped SAT/ACT essay writing as a mandatory requirement. According to A-Writer, a reputable online writing service, there are several reasons why schools are dropping SAT/ACT writing requirements, including the financial burden for students and unnecessary stress.

“Yale University explained their decision in a memo sent to counselors working with high school students,” says Gordon Whittaker, an industry expert from A-Writer. “They want to make the application process a bit easier because SAT/ACT writing is done after school hours.”

Although this explanation is official, it still doesn’t reveal whether students need to submit SAT/ACT essay score to schools that made them optional.


SAT/ACT Essays Useless for Admission Leaders?

While the moves made by schools like Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and MIT captured the attention of students, they reflect a major disappointment of admission professionals toward SAT/ACT essays.

This disappointment is not new. In the 2014 report by the College Board, the organization made a statement that clearly explained why it recommends to make writing an essay optional. Here’s what they wrote:

“While the writing work that students do in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the exam is strongly predictive of college and career readiness and success, one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam.”

Not a single essay has contributed to the predictive power of the exam! That’s unbelievable, since the purpose of incorporating this requirement was to prove that being a good essay writer predicted the performance of the students…

The report also claims that only “some” admission officers considered the essay writing useful. But many “did not.” Probably, this is another way of saying that the overwhelming majority of admission professionals don’t think writing an essay is helpful for the purpose of predicting the writing skills of applicants.

Perhaps that why U.S. schools are dropping this requirement one by one. Just a year after the aforementioned report by the College Board was published, Penn, Cornell, Columbia, and other Ivy League universities decided to end the essay requirement. Many others followed suit.

Princeton Review, a leading college admission services company, strongly opposes SAT and ACT essays. According to this source, over 70 percent of students take the SAT and over 50 percent take the ACT but less than 1 percent of colleges require an essay score. Nevertheless, students and taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars and don’t get anything in return. That’s why it’s time for the SAT/ACT essays to go, claims the Review.


What does it mean for Students?

With so many schools making SAT/ACT essay optional, it’s easy to think that students should forget about writing a college paper and focus other sections of the exam. However, one should still keep in mind that the essay writing is optional, so it could be used to evaluate a student in case if admission officers need more information to make a final decision. So, if you’ve been training to become an excellent essay writer, you may get a chance to prove it.

On the other hand, the fact that most of U.S. schools made SAT/ACT essay writing optional also means that if a student has excellent grades, impressive extracurricular activities, a leadership potential, strong skills, and an impressive athletic record, chances are he or she will stand out as a great candidate without any essay test scores.

Moreover, there’s evidence suggesting that schools using the no-essay-test option achieve much greater diversity. A recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling called Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works, found that non-submitters comprised larger proportions of students who identified with one or multiple underrepresented groups.

The authors of the report also stated that standardized tests such as SAT/ACT essay tend to favor students from groups who have traditionally had the greatest access to colleges and universities. By eliminating this requirement, an institution could increase diversity because such groups as people with disabilities, minority students, immigrants, and women tend to do less well on similar tests.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that a student shouldn’t be a good essay writer.

Richard Shaw, Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid, explained to Washington Post that while his school still “strongly recommends” submitting an essay score from at least one admission test, they will “seek alternative methods to promote good writing.”


The Bottom Line

The schools are sending a strong message to applicants: they don’t feel that an SAT/ACT essay score is critical for screening applicants. The University of Chicago, by the way, has become the most recent high-ranking research university to drop this requirement.

For students, this test-optional movement means one thing: it’s still recommended to submit the essay score because admission officers may require information to assess their candidacy, but it’s likely that this requirement may become history sooner than we think.

Lucy Benton
Lucy Benton is a writing coach, an editor who finds her passion in expressing own thoughts as a blogger. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Also Lucy has her own writing blog Prowriting where you can check her last publications.

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