The SAT and ACT essay tests began with fanfare in 2005, a bid to assess the writing chops of college-bound students under the pressure of a clock.
Now, many colleges say time’s up for those exams. With a few notable exceptions, the consensus in higher education is that the tests are becoming an afterthought even though hundreds of thousands of high school students still take them every year as one of the grinding rituals on the road to college.
One by one, major schools this year are dropping their requirements for prospective students to submit an essay score from the national testing services. Princeton and Stanford universities last week became the latest to end the mandate, following Dartmouth College and Harvard and Yale universities.
Those schools are dropping the requirement because they wanted to ensure that the extra cost of essay testing did not drive applicants away. Others have resisted requiring the essays because they doubted the exercise revealed much.
It is a remarkable fall for an initiative that arose little more than a dozen years ago with the hope of reshaping college admission testing, offering a tool to measure student potential on a massive scale.
Fewer than 25 schools now require the essay scores, according to some tallies. Brown University, as of Friday, was the lone holdout in the Ivy League.
“I guarantee you it’s on the way out entirely,” said Charles Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown University.
Deacon said he never considers the essay scores when reading applications. “Just didn’t make any difference to us,” he said.
But Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission, said she finds the scores helpful and sometimes reads the essay that yielded the score when she wants to know more about an applicant. “It’s actually a very good test,” she said. But the university dropped the requirement, she said, out of concern that testing costs or logistical issues would deter some students from applying.
Students are still welcome to send in essay scores, she said, but the university will now require applicants to send a graded sample of high school writing, preferably in English or history. “We really value writing,” Rapelye said. “It’s a required part of our curriculum. We want to be able to assess a student’s ability.”
The SAT and ACT essays have proved controversial since they were launched at the urging of higher education leaders. The College Board, which oversees the SAT, added a mandatory 25-minute writing assignment to the main test 13 years ago and raised the maximum total score to 2400. But that version flopped.
In a 2016 overhaul, the SAT’s top score reverted to 1600. The essay was retained, but the time for it was lengthened to 50 minutes.