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For years, I have encouraged my top students to take the SAT Subject Tests (a battery of single-subject college admission tests owned by the College Board), which were required by some of the country’s top colleges for admission.

“The AP tests?” my students would respond. I understood their confusion: it never really made sense to have both the subject tests and the AP tests, because the two sets of tests seemed to cover mainly the same ground.

Now, the subject tests are gone, swept away in the current pandemic. In fact, the College Board has decided to cut both the subject tests and the SAT Essay.

But the AP tests remain, and their current use is strange. My high school juniors spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for AP tests just because some universities will give them some course credit if they achieve a 3 or higher on an AP test (the maximum AP test score is 5).

When I inform my students that AP tests are not required, and often not used at all, for college admissions, they are shocked. And the reason they are surprised is completely valid: the AP tests are a terrific gauge of how well students know specific subject material in high school (math, chemistry, Spanish, English, etc.). Why are students doing all of this work if AP tests are not used for college admissions purposes?

My proposal is quite simple: now that the subject tests are gone, the AP tests should be given an official place, along with grade-point averages, the SAT/ACT, etc. for admissions decisions at many of our country’s top universities.

Some will point out that the AP tests are not available at all high schools. But in 2020, the College Board ran the AP tests online, and the College Board and ACT are actively working on creating an online SAT and ACT, respectively. So, this problem can easily be resolved by running the AP tests online for anyone who doesn’t have access to taking these tests in their schools.

I also feel that the AP test scale should be amended, if these tests are going to be used for college admissions purposes. The 1-5 scale is too narrow. Instead, AP tests should be graded on a 1-10 scale. A wider scale would really allow college admissions officials to differentiate between applicants’ scores.

Why, in this time of “optional” testing, would it be wise to add AP tests into the college admissions mix? Simple: college admissions is a mess right now. There is hardly any quantitative data at all. Grades are all over the place, many students are applying without SAT/ACT scores and who knows if the college application essays are telling a real story or just inventing or elaborating.

College admissions officials need more solid data, and the AP tests would give them another measure of student performance.

Should all colleges use AP tests? Obviously not, because many students are not taking AP-level courses. In fact, AP tests could be deemed optional by colleges, in the same way that SAT/ACT scores are now optional, for certain colleges. But the point is that AP test scores would be of great use as another academic yardstick for admissions officials in the country’s top colleges.

In addition, AP test scores could also be a factor in deciding who receives academic scholarships for college. Rather than guessing based solely on flimsy, random high school grading systems, colleges could reward those students who prove that they have mastered high school subjects at an advanced level.

It’s truly a unique opportunity to improve the current college admissions and college academic scholarship process: use the results of a test that so many of the country’s best students are taking anyway.

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