Not stressing over a high-stakes college admissions test is to a high school junior what sleeping late is to a Saturday morning. If the apparent demise of SAT and ACT scores as benchmarks of young human potential were reduced to an analogy once favored by the authors of those exams, maybe it would look something like that.

Or maybe not. The point is it doesn’t matter anymore, now that colleges and universities are changing their admissions rules so that the scores are optional or not considered at all. For teenagers assembling college applications, whether the school of their dreams wants them as much as they want it now is less likely to be determined by mastery of algebra, logic problems and archaic vocabulary.

The University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus in Amherst is one of the latest to make SAT or ACT scores optional. Its policy takes effect this spring and holds for at least three years. Here’s hoping it will be made permanent, there and elsewhere.

The coronavirus prompts the change. Rules on how many people can gather at any one time, not to mention closures of facilities used as testing sites, are scrambling SAT and ACT test schedules. High school students eager to take an exam are struggling to find an opportunity.

To be sure, the storied entrance exams known to darken the dreams of young adults long after-the-fact are fading from fashion without the help of COVID-19. Critics  complain that the tests, designed as equalizers among students, instead disadvantage kids without the resources for rigorous test prep. The applicability to students from other countries and cultures also raises doubts. Many colleges already allow students to apply on the basis of grades, recommendations, extracurriculars and essays, and have for several years.

Teenagers shouldn’t be ebullient just yet, to take a term from one of those infernal vocabulary lists. The SAT and ACT live on, especially at colleges that still use their scores to guide scholarship decisions. But these connections will also fade with time, until the day that a student’s performance on an exam on a given morning doesn’t hold outsized sway over the rest of their lives.


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