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Standardized Testing vs. GPA: Which Better Indicates College Success?

March 2, 2012

Standardized Testing vs. GPA: Which Better Indicates College Success?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Recently, The New York Times revealed that two studies have shown that many community colleges wrongly place students in remedial classes. The main reason why this happens is because students are placed according to their standardized test scores, rather than their cumulative GPAs – in other words, students are forced to pay for classes they don't receive college credit for and, if not for one less-than-hoped-for standardized test score, wouldn't even have to take otherwise! Consequently, students forced to take these remedial classes may experience lower self-esteem than their peers, fail to graduate on time and have to work significantly harder (both at work and at school) to afford these additional classes. In short, having to take unnecessary remedial classes has the potential to make college much more difficult than it needs to be.

All of these problems could be alleviated if community colleges (and state and private universities, for that matter) placed students based on their cumulative high school GPAs. After all, GPA is determined by years of hard work, whereas standardized tests are based on (at most) several months of preparation. And while we obviously can't use the excuse, "I don't test well" every time our test scores leave something to be desired, we should also keep in mind that one test does not (and should not) determine our academic futures.

If you or someone you know is having to take unnecessary remedial classes (e.g., you earned a B in high school calculus but didn't do as well on the standardized test), don't be afraid to talk to someone in admissions about your concerns. While changes rarely go into effect right away, faculty will listen if more students question the emphasis on standardized tests over cumulative GPA. Just make sure you're polite and discuss your concerns logically and calmly!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Your College Application Guide

October 9, 2012

Your College Application Guide

by Radha Jhatakia

For seniors in high school, it’s about that time to dive into your college applications. The process is rather involved and has the potential to become very stressful but here’s how you can go about it while retaining your sanity.

First, you likely already have a list of colleges you are considering but start narrowing down your top contenders. Look at the majors they offer and see if they have the programs you’re interested in. Check the cost – financial aid may play a key role in what college you attend – and also see if they have activities that interest you (a sport you want to play, a specific student organization, a Greek system, an honors program, etc.). What’s the on-campus housing situation and could you see yourself living in the dorms? Consider these questions and more when deciding whether or not to apply to a college.

Second, check all the application deadlines. Remember, besides the actual application, you must submit test scores, transcripts, recommendation letters and personal statements and you need adequate time to procure all of these items. Also, review the fees associated with each application; some schools let you apply for free or a discounted rate online but you should also consider requesting application fee waivers if money is tight.

Third, the personal statement is the biggest part of the college application because it represents your personality. You may have a high GPA, AP classes and extracurricular activities but so do many other students – what will set you apart from the rest of the application pool is how you present yourself in the personal statement. Have a teacher or parent review your personal statement and edit it for you before submitting it to your college of choice.

Fourth – and although this is fourth on this list, you still want to get it done early – request recommendation letters. Ask teachers you’ve worked with and trust well in advance if they can write on your behalf. Have two or three for each college that requires one. Along with your personal information/resume/school involvement list, give the teacher an envelope that is stamped and addressed to the college(s) to which you’re applying so they can submit their letters directly.

Last but not least, take all your tests on time. If you haven’t taken the ACT, SAT or SAT II tests, register for the next available date; check which tests your colleges require and sign up for those ASAP!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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College: The Ultimate Life Lesson

June 16, 2011

College: The Ultimate Life Lesson

by Radha Jhatakia

There are many things I wish I knew before I started college...or even a year or two in! Tips about what professors are difficult, what dining halls serve the best food and where to find the dorms with the most square footage are quite often available but the biggest tip – which you won’t realize until you’re done with school – is that college itself teaches you how to get by in life.

The process begins before college with the prep work you do. You take six classes a semester in high school when during college you take three to five classes depending on the semester or quarter system. You take the SAT or ACT, which test your ability to take a test itself, not your intellectual abilities. You participate in every extracurricular possible to make your transcripts appealing, only to realize that those activities won’t really matter on campus. All of these tasks are tests: In college, you’ll spread yourself thin between a job, challenging classes, clubs and your social life but thanks to your prep work, you’ll know how to balance it all.

Once you’re on campus, college prepares you for the obstacles and struggles that await everyone after graduation. You’ll take engineering courses, biology labs and communications lectures and complete projects and papers to gauge how well you can apply the material you’ve learned and tight deadlines to help you to think on your feet. Whether you’re finding a way to pay off student loans or trying to secure a job in your field, those seemingly small assignments you completed in college will have prepared you to deal with the real world.

You’ll gain a lot from your college experience – friends, memories, knowledge – but most importantly is your degree, a testimony that you will be able to make it in life beyond those hallowed halls.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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GRE Revisions Announced for 2011

December 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For those planning on attending graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, has long been a part of the admissions process that seems largely unrelated to their academic ambitions. The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, has been planning and promising alterations for years. Friday, they announced their latest attempt, a plan that would eliminate some of the most onerous questions and revamp the scoring to more accurately reflect students' abilities.

The new GRE, which is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011, will keep the computer-adaptive testing format and the three sections (writing, quantitative, and verbal) of the current GRE, but will make some substantial changes to scoring, student responses, and the content of some sections. Possible GRE scores will change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, a change which is meant to deemphasize minor differences in scores. The test will also become slightly longer, changing from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours in length.

The biggest change to the test format will be the possibility to skip and return to questions. Currently, the computer-adaptive format presents test-takers questions they must answer before proceeding, giving them easier or harder questions based on their response to determine their score. The new format will adapt section-by-section, rather than question-by-question, hopefully giving a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities. The ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students' concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed--a strategy for taking standardized tests that the GRE's current format makes difficult to practice.

Changes to the sections of the GRE will be more minor, but could still make a big difference to some test-takers. The writing section consists of two prompts, one asking for a logical analysis and one asking for an argumentative essay. It will remain largely unchanged in the new version of the test. The quantitative section asks multiple-choice math questions students are likely to have encountered in high school and college. ETS plans to add a calculator for this section. The verbal section will undergo the biggest changes, with questions on analogies and antonyms eliminated, as these have practically necessitated rote memorization of vocabulary words, largely defeating the purpose of the test.

Prospective graduate students in 2009 and 2010 will still be stuck with the current version of the GRE. Although some students may love analogies and obscure vocabulary words and be sad to see them go, students who have been struggling with elements of the current test may get some relief if they decide to apply for graduate school in 2011. Whether the GRE changes are actually implemented according to schedule remains to be seen, but so far, the revisions haven't been met with much opposition.

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High Schools in 8 States to Offer Early Graduation Plan

February 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year that will allow their high school sophomores to test out of their junior and senior years if they are interested in enrolling in community college early.

The program is the brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), and was announced Wednesday. Those who do well on the tests, which will be called "board exams," but aren't interested in going to a community college will be able to continue taking college prep courses at their high schools to prepare for filing applications to the selective schools of their choice. Those who fail the exams will be eligible to retake them at the end of their junior and senior years.

According to the NCEE, the program's goals are to reduce the number of college students in remedial courses, and to better prepare high school students for campus life and the rigors of academics at institutions of higher education. Today, nearly half of the students in community colleges take one or more remedial courses and many are never able to complete developmental courses and move on to credit-level courses to complete their college degree, according to the NCEE. 

Students would be tested on a broad range of topics, including the standard English and math. Between 10 to 20 schools in the eight states involved will offer the program, modeled after existing programs in countries like Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, in the 2010-2011 academic year. According to an article in the New York Times, the program has received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help states and school districts get the program running. Start-up costs for school districts would be about $500 per student; that would cover the costs of courses, tests, and teacher training. To cover future costs, the eight states in the program plan to apply for a portion of the $350 million in federal stimulus money designated for improving public school testing, according to the New York Times.

The eight states offering the program are Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The NCEE hopes the program, which was a part of recommendations set into motion by the NCEE in 2006, will spread across the country. Their other recommendations included getting children in school by the time they were 3 years old and giving states control over local school districts.

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Record Number Registered for GRE in 2009

March 4, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The number of undergraduates registering for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) increased by about 675,000 in 2009, a record 9 percent increase over the previous year. The news was announced this week by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which also reported a 6 percent increase in graduate admissions in 2009.

The ETS attributes some of the increase to the number of MBA programs that now accept the GRE rather than the GMAT exclusively. (In 2009, there was a 68 percent increase in the number of business schools accepting GRE scores for their MBA programs, and the number of GRE test-takers who took the GRE to get into business school doubled.) This also makes it even easier for those unsure about whether they'd like to go to business school or another graduate program.

The news comes at a time when the ETS is getting ready to roll out a series of changes to the graduate exam. The new GRE is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011. Changes will include the possibility to skip and return to questions, a change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, and an increase in length from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours. The ETS says the changes are meant to allow for a test that paints a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities, as it will rely less on strategy—the ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students’ concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed—and more on the accuracy of their answers.

If you're considering registering and eventually taking the exam, we have a number of resources to help you master the GRE and learn more about what you need to know about the new GRE format, since you'll now need to freshen up those test-taking skills even if you've taken the GRE in the past. The most important thing to know is that you should prepare for this test as you would for any other standardized test. Chances are it's been a while since you've taken the ACT and SAT, and while the study skills you honed to complete those exams successfully are useful on the GRE, it's important to get to know the specific content you'll be tested on when taking the GRE. Practice tests are never a bad idea. Finally, don't stress too much. You can retake the GRE up to five times in one year.

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Saint Michael's College Drops SAT Requirement

April 7, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While the debate over the effectiveness of standardized test scores continues, one school has decided to do away with the tests as part of their application process. Vermont school Saint Michael's College announced Tuesday that its applicants will no longer need to include their SAT results as part of the school's admissions process. Students will be evaluated on other criteria instead, including their high school academic records, leadership and service work, and extracurricular activities, among other factors.

Students will still be able to choose whether or not to submit both their SAT and ACT scores to the college. Some students are just good test-takers, the college reasons, so impressive scores may add value to an application. But the decision signals a shift, at least at Saint Michael's and other schools with similar requirements, that there are other, more important factors of a student's college application outside of standardized test scores. For example, the school has always paid attention to the kinds of courses students choose to tackle in high school, according to Jacqueline Murphy, the school's director of admissions. Murphy was quoted in the Burlington Free Press as saying the decision "made official something we've always done in practice -- and that is, focus on a holistic review of the student."

The standardized testing system has been criticized for years, most prominently by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. NACAC has gone so far as to say standardized tests should be removed from admissions processes altogether, and that standardized prep services benefited only those who could afford them.

Whether you agree or not, you'll probably be faced with the prospect of taking some kind of standardized test in your college or post-graduate career. Although hundreds of schools across the country have done away with the standardized testing requirement, many more still require students submit their ACT or SAT results. If you're planning on going to law or graduate school, you'll also need to take either the LSAT or the GRE to gain admittance into those programs. It's best then to at least familiarize yourself with the formats of the tests. Best case scenario, you'll also take some time to practice taking the tests and studying up on the main themes you'll be asked to recall on the exams. If you're worried, browse through our tips for taking standardized tests. Being prepared will help you feel more confident come testing day, potentially raising your final score.

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"Test-Optional" Policy at American University Expanded

July 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.

Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.

According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.

Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.

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ACT Scores Lower This Year, But More Students Ready for College

August 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Although average ACT scores were lower this year than the previous year, it wasn’t all bad news on this year’s ACT score report. High school graduates who took the test this year are slightly more prepared for college than their peers in years prior, despite the average lower scores.

According to the report, The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2010, about 71 percent of test-takers met at least one of four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading or science. About 47 percent met between one and three benchmarks, and 24 percent met all four benchmarks. Last year, 23 percent met all four benchmarks; in 2006, that figure was around 21 percent.

An article from the Associated Press in USA Today this week explains that test-takers this year were a more diverse group of students. While they did score lower overall, how they did meeting benchmarks is encouraging to the authors of the test. To measure college readiness, the standardized test translates students’ subject area scores into data that shows their chances of receiving passing grades in college coursework. The content on the ACT can relate to courses like biology and general education social science and psychology classes, for example. It’s also important to note that more students in general are taking the test, so slight gains like this in any area may mean more than you think.

Other data pulled from the report included the following:

  • 29 percent of test-takers were of a minority group, up from 23 percent in 2006.
  • Average scores for Hispanic students decreased slightly, from 18.7 last year to 18.6 this year, but the number of students from that student population taking the ACT has nearly doubled in size.
  • Average scores among other race/ethnic groups were 23.4 for Asian students, 22.3 for white students, 19 for American Indian students, and 16.9 for black students.
  • The national average for all student groups was 21, down from 21.1 last year. (The ACT is measured on a scale of 1 to 36.)
  • Those students who took a core curriculum in high school were more likely to meet their college readiness benchmarks; students who took more than three years of math in high school were more than 42 percent more likely to meet their benchmarks in that subject area than those who didn’t.

While more colleges are going “test-optional” when it comes to providing standardized test scores as part of your college application, both the ACT and SAT remain important at most institutions of higher education. At those schools with a high number of applicants, there may even be a cut-off score as part of the admissions process. You’ll probably then still need to take either test, despite growing criticism over the effectiveness of standardized tests. Take a look at our Standardized Testing section for more information on how you can better prepare for not only undergraduate admissions tests, but graduate and professional school tests like the GRE and LSAT as well.

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NACAC Addresses Standardized Testing, Early Decision

September 24, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week.  In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.

A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions.  While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing.  This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.

Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years.  Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision.  Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission.  While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.

Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed.  Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location.  Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.

Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college.  An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools.  Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted.  Online applications also continue to gain popularity.

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