Princeton and Stanford Drop SAT/ACT Writing Test

Princeton will now require applicants to submit a graded writing sample. Only 23 colleges now require the test.

July 9, 2018
 
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Princeton University on Thursday announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit writing portions of the SAT or ACT. Stanford University is making a similar change.

The moves follow similar announcements from Harvard and Yale Universities and brings the universities in line with most colleges and universities, which do not require the writing tests even if they do require (as Princeton, Harvard, Stanford and Yale all do) the submission of SAT or ACT scores. "With this policy, Princeton aims to alleviate the financial hardship placed on students, including those who have the opportunity to take the test without writing during the school day and for free," said an announcement on Princeton's website.

Princeton is, however, adding a writing requirement -- for all applicants. "Princeton will now require a graded writing sample, preferably in the subjects of English or history, to be submitted by all applicants to the university. University officials believe that assessing a student’s in-class work will provide helpful and meaningful insight into a student’s academic potential," said the announcement.

The Washington Post first reported on Stanford's plans and said that the university will continue to "strongly recommend" submitting either the SAT or ACT writing test.

A Stanford spokesman, in an email to Inside Higher Ed, confirmed the change and said that the university would continue to pay close attention to language and writing in reviewing applications. "We will look at alternatives to promote good writing and this will involve faculty," he said. (Stanford's website is not yet updated, so readers should not be confused by its statement of the now defunct policy there.)

In June, when Yale and the University of San Diego announced that they were dropping the SAT/ACT writing requirements, the Princeton Review (which tracks such policies and is not connected to Princeton University) could identify only 25 institutions that continued to require the writing portion of the test, a number now down to 23.

More than 1.6 million students take the SAT each year, and a similar number take the ACT, with some students taking both tests. The Princeton Review and others have noted that about 70 percent of those who take the SAT take the writing test and that a majority of those taking the ACT also do so, even though the overwhelming majority of those students will not attend a college that requires the tests. Many counselors have called for the testing organizations to drop the writing portion of their tests, saying that the writing test adds to the stress level of students without apparently being valued by many college admissions officers.

James Murphy, director of national outreach for the Princeton Review, which helps many students with a range of admissions issues, said via email, “We are really pleased to see Princeton and Stanford join not only six other Ivy League universities but also more than 1,600 other schools across the country in their decision not to require the essay. This is good for students and does no harm to schools. Writing well is an essential skill for college and beyond, but these assessments do a poor job in evaluating writing skill. We look forward to the 23 schools that still require the essays coming to see the light.”

The College Board, whose SAT is the dominant test at Princeton and Stanford, did not respond to a request for comment.

The College Board first started offering an essay on the SAT in 2005. But many writing experts were highly critical of the format, noting among other things that it did not judge whether statements were factually correct. Les Perelman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology writing professor, famously coached students on how to write ludicrous essays that would receive high scores.

In 2014, the College Board announced revisions to the SAT -- with substantial changes to the essay, including the use of writing passages to force test takers to cite evidence for opinions in their essays.

Generally, critics of the first version of the writing test agreed that the new version was better, but some continued to question whether the writing test had enough value to justify leading students to prepare for and take it. Some advocates for the essay hoped the changes would lead more colleges to rely on it as part of the admissions process. But the news from Harvard, Yale and now Princeton, and the lack of interest in adding the writing test as a requirement, suggests that this is not happening.

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