Standardized Testing, University of California Keep the SAT and ACT

February 18, 2020, by

University of California will keep the SAT and ACT

It looks like the University of California will keep the SAT and ACT for now.  A task force studying the use of standardized tests for admission to the University of California has concluded that it “does not recommend that UC make standardized tests optional for applicants at this time” and noted that UC should “conduct additional research on the impact of going test optional before implementing such a policy.” If the Board of Regents accepts the task force’s recommendation in May, the ACT and SAT will remain important criteria in college admissions in California for the foreseeable future.

The task force found less evidence to support the validity of the ACT and SAT essay portions currently required for all applicants. They did not, however, explicitly recommend dropping the essay, so for now students applying to UC should continue to take the ACT and SAT with essay.

The University of California System

The University of California is a system of nine campuses that includes well-known names such as the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley. Since prospective students can apply to all UC schools with one application, last year the system received 697,486 total applications from over 182,000 applicants. Six of the nine campuses receive over 75,000 applications each year.

Because UC receives so many applications, its requirements differ from those of many other colleges. Its admissions process is also less holistic and more streamlined.  For example, students self-report all grades on their applications (their grades are confirmed through school transcripts prior to enrollment) and are not permitted to submit any supporting documents such as teacher or counselor recommendations.  Strict requirements for admissions include a set number of credits in the five core subject areas (English, History, Math, Science and Language) as well as two semesters of college prep electives and two semesters of visual or performing arts. To be considered for acceptance, CA students must have a 3.0 GPA; non-residents must have a 3.4 GPA.

California’s Standardized Testing Task Force

California’s Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF) was commissioned in January 2019 in response to concerns that students from ‘historically excluded groups’ receive lower scores on standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT.  Critics argue that by using such tests, the University is perpetuating educational inequality.  The task force was asked to examine the University’s use of standardized testing for admission and to consider whether the University should modify or eliminate its testing requirements.

In a report released in late January, California’s STTF found that “standardized test scores aid in predicting important aspects of student success, including undergraduate grade point average, retention, and completion.” Moreover, the task force found that standardized tests are a better or equal predictor of these factors than high school grade point average.  Grade inflation and inconsistent grading standards have made high school GPAs less predictive of success in college.

Other findings of the task force include:

  • University of California weights test scores less strongly than high school GPA
  • Test scores are predictive for all demographic groups and disciplines even after controlling for High School GPA
  • Test scores are better predictors of success for students who are underrepresented minority students, who are first-generation, or whose families are low-income
  • The use of the SAT and ACT do not play a major role in disparities in the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status of college students compared to other factors
  • The SAT essay score is less valuable than High School GPA and the EBRW score in predicting college success, accounting for only nine percent of variation in freshman GPA
  • Recommendations for a new assessment tool separate to the ACT or SAT that incorporates performance-type assessments. Such a tool would take 9 years to complete

Takeaways for UC Applicants:

  • There are no changes recommended to the current applications process (although this may change when the Board of Regents meets to consider the recommendations in May)
  • Students interested in applying to UC should still plan on taking either the ACT or SAT both with the essay component.
  • Careful planning is important. Students must take the required core courses as well as one full year of visual or performing arts and two college prep electives.

To view a full copy of the STTF report, go to the following link:

To view the requirements for admission to UC, go to the following link:







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