Laura Berlinsky-Schine 4 min read Standardized Tests

UC Schools Eliminate SAT/ACT Requirement: What This Means for Students

The University of California made waves when it went test-blind this fall. 


Although the system may still use SAT or ACT scores in determining students’ eligibility for the California statewide admissions guarantee or for course placement, they will not play a role in admissions decisions at any of the nine schools that comprise UC. These standardized tests will also not be used to determine Regents and Chancellor’s scholarships.


The decision came after the UC Board of Regents unanimously voted to implement a five-year plan to do away with the testing requirement and replace it with a new test the system would be developed by 2025 in May of this year. During the pandemic, UC had become test-optional.


The UC system is one of the most prestigious public university systems in the country, and the decision will likely have broader implications in the admissions process at both public and private higher education institutions throughout the United States. Already, the vast majority of colleges and universities have gone test-optional for at least the current admissions cycle, and the pandemic will likely have long-lasting effects on the admissions process in this and other ways.


UC Schools Go Test-Blind: Timeline of the Decisions


December 2019


A coalition of students, along with a California school district and several advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against the UC over the use of standardized test scores in its admissions process, arguing that it discriminates against people of color, largely Black and Hispanic students, and those with disabilities.


Spring 2020


The College Board and ACT canceled all spring SAT and ACT test dates respectively because of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting many institutions, including UC, to change their admissions policies to test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, and in some cases beyond that. Testing resumed in fall, although not all testing centers have reopened.


May 2020


On May 21, the UC Board of Regent unanimously approved a plan to eliminate its SAT/ACT requirement, voting instead to create its own test, to be implemented by 2025. Under the plan, the system would remain test-optional for two years, after which the SAT and ACT would not be considered in the admissions process. The test would still be used to award scholarships and to determine course placement.


Instead, the system said it would create a new standardized test to replace the SAT and ACT, to be implemented by 2025. If the system was unable to successfully implement a new test, then it would remain test-blind.


August/September 2020


Following the unanimous vote, in late August, a California State Court Judge Brad Seligman issued a preliminary injunction preventing the UC from using standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, as part of its admissions decisions.


The system appealed the decision and was granted a temporary stay, allowing the UC to use the tests as part of the admissions process for the time being.


October 2020


On October 29, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco lifted the stay, meaning the UC would no longer be permitted to use standardized tests as part of the process. This ruling went into effect immediately, such that the nine schools that comprise the UC will be test-blind for fall 2021 applicants.

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The Reasoning Behind This Decision


“Test blind has the virtue of sending a straightforward signal that biased tests are worthless as measures of merit,” Joseph A. Soares, a Wake Forest University professor, and Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, declared in Inside Higher Ed following Judge Seligman’s initial ruling.


Others agree, saying the SAT and ACT are biased against low-income and many minority students. They contend that the tests are inequitable because students from affluent families are able to pay for test prep sessions, allowing them to raise their scores through expensive tutoring, while many of their peers are not. Students with disabilities are also often at a disadvantage when taking standardized tests, even if they receive accommodations like additional time.


While test-optional policies have attempted to address concerns about equity, according to CollegeVine’s data, students who submit scores are accepted at a higher rate than those who don’t — even if their scores are below the 25th percentile of admitted students at a given school. That’s why so many people believe a test-blind policy makes more sense.


At the same time, it’s worth noting that the rationale behind developing these tests in the first place was that they would add a more (supposedly) objective measure to the admissions process, since grades are not standardized across schools or even courses within the same school. In other words, an A at High School 1 could be a B+ at High School 2. Eliminating the SAT and ACT from the equation means colleges will need to compare apples to oranges when evaluating students’ academic capabilities and potential.


What This Means for Students


First things first: Unless you’re exclusively applying to UC schools, you’ll more than likely still have plenty of schools on your list that require scores or are test-optional. That means that if you can, you should take the SAT or ACT. (Check out our advice for submitting scores to test-optional schools during COVID.) Remember, too, that your scores can affect your placement in some courses and may be a factor for certain scholarships.


For the UC system, your grades, extracurriculars, and essays will become more important. This means you’ll need to focus more on these elements of your profile and application, rather than investing in test prep. Need help crafting your essays? Review our guide for responding to the UC prompts.


NB: Most UC campuses have closed their application submission period, although some have extended their deadline to December 15.


Not sure how you stack up against other applicants, with or without a test score? To find your real odds of admission to more than 500 colleges in the U.S., including all nine of the UC schools, try out CollegeVine’s Chancing Engine. This unique tool takes into account your test scores if you’re planning on submitting them, GPA, and qualitative factors. We’ll also give you feedback to help you improve your profile. It’s completely free!

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.