SAT II decision changes college admissions game

photo and design by Jeffrey Yang ’22

The pandemic has sped the progress of devaluing standardized tests with college admission adjustments and the cancellation of SAT II subject tests. Meanwhile, some students also look to AP tests as a substitute for the subject tests to strengthen their college portfolios.

     “The College Board rather suddenly said: no more SAT IIs ever again. I don’t want to call it a bombshell, but it just seems interesting that it led some kids to think about APs, and I think the college offices have a particular feeling about that,” History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish said, “Yes. I do think that there are more AP registrations this year.”

     With more students considering history APs this year, the situation has been different in the math department.

“With the quarter system, we won’t be finished with Calculus in quarter four to be prepared fully for the AP, so it makes it a challenge to take the exam without outside study on your own this year.”

MAth teacher Mr. Matt Ator

     Math teacher Mr. Matt Ator said. “When I taught Calculus I last year, thirty to forty percent took the APs. With ambiguity regarding when the test will be administered this year, I haven’t heard as many students taking it. With the quarter system, we won’t be finished with Calculus in quarter four to be prepared fully for the AP, so it makes it a challenge to take the exam without outside study on your own this year.”

     Student decisions seem to confirm Mr. Ator’s observations.

     “I am planning on not taking the AP tests,” Fifth Former Samuel Kohl said. “I know a bunch of students like me that were taking it but are canceling because there’s no reason to take them.” 

     Time-restraints are not the only difficulties. Haverford had purposefully dropped its AP courses before the beginning of the pandemic.

     “The most important thing to understand is that Haverford dropped its AP curriculum a long time ago. We were very intentional on dropping our AP curriculums,” Associate Director of College Counseling Ms. Heather Stinson said.

     Since the upper school discontinued its Advanced Placement programs in 2006, the program has moved away from a mundane, test-based system.

     “The fact that we are still hosting exams is great, but it feels forced into our schedule. Because we don’t have AP classes, we figured out that kids are missing class to take these tests,” Ms. Stinson said.

     Teachers observed that some students took the AP as a replacement for SAT IIs for their college admissions. 

     “In the short term, kids are going to get in their mind that they need to show something to colleges with scores on it. There’s this larger world of forces that are overhauling our college admissions process in ways that are beyond us. I think there’s going to be an uptick in the short run,” Ms. Turlish said.

     Mr. Ator said, “Maybe more students will tend towards APs as a replacement.”

     The College Counseling Office tries to clarify this misconception.

     “A message that we keep trying to make clear to Haverford boys is that the AP was never designed to be used for admissions. The AP curriculum and exams are in place, so colleges know where to place students once they are enrolled,” Ms. Stinson said. “There aren’t any colleges that require AP tests as their admissions requirement.”

     While Haverford and college admissions have been moving away from AP tests, teachers have mixed emotions about the effectiveness of AP tests in determining a student’s ability. Some parts of the AP curriculum were, in fact, very educational. 

     A key element in AP’s humanities course is the document-based question (DBQ) essay. The history department sees the effectiveness of these questions and applies them in their curricula.

     “DBQs are the closest you can get to what historians do without doing a full-blown research paper,” Ms. Turlish said. “You’re looking at documents you’ve never seen before, you’re given something to argue and prove, and that’s what historians do.” 

     “I have some conflicting emotions about APs. I’ve been inspired by some DBQs. I have a lot of critical things to say about the College Board, but I do think they put an enormous amount of thought and work into crafting the exam,” Ms. Turlish said.

“We’re in this really beautiful place in time. It’s a little messy, but it’s really good where barriers to higher education in our country are being broken down.”

Associate Director of College Counseling Ms. Heather Stinson

     The math department also incorporates AP questions as a part of their course curricula.

     “In our class, I have implanted AP questions. The questions are great challenge questions that are going to be something in context: you’re working from a graph and you have to demonstrate that you know what the concept means and can twist its use,” Mr. Ator said. “But part of the silliness of APs is they like asking specific questions about specific topics  that have minimal bearing on the course as a whole.”

     As for the AP tests: their role in college admissions will continue to decrease along with other standardized tests.

     “We’re in this really beautiful place in time. It’s a little messy, but it’s really good where barriers to higher education in our country are being broken down,” Ms. Stinson said. “We have to take that barrier away because it’s just not a possibility for many students who deserve a shot at college. I think that the schools are doing the right thing by scrapping the subject tests entirely.”

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen has written for The Index since 2019. His news piece “Inside the middle school construction project” and his opinion “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” each earned a Silver Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Writing Awards.