Applicants to UC Baffled by SAT Rule Changes

A major overhaul in freshman admission requirements at the University of California this year have caused widespread confusion and anxiety among students about whether to take the supplemental tests known as SAT subject exams, writes Larry Gordon at the Los Angeles Times.

To boost their chances of UC admission, thousands of high school seniors are still taking the subject exams even though the university has dropped them as a requirement.  Good subject test scores in any discipline will be a “plus factor” in a freshman application, similar to musical ability or club leadership, UC officials say. Not taking them or doing poorly won’t eliminate anyone, they emphasize.

Something of a contradiction: If taking the subject tests helps some students, they ask, won’t not taking them potentially hurt others in the zero sum game of admissions?

“It’s definitely been confusing for them,” said Noel Hernandez, a Monrovia High School counselor.

“I’ve had a lot of students come in to my office and ask, ‘Should I take them or should I not take them?’” About half of her UC applicants are taking the tests, she said, and because submitting the scores is optional, she advises them to do so only if they do well.

Robin Sroka, a counselor at Wilson High in Long Beach, said she is skeptical of UC’s promise that skipping or doing poorly on a subject exam won’t hurt, a view she’s expressing to her students.

“It’s like telling a jury to ignore damaging information that a judge rules inadmissible after the jurors have already heard it,” she said.

UC officials say the new policy should not cause worries, although they acknowledge that any big admissions change can provoke anxiety for many students and parents and have been explaining the reforms at meetings of high school counselors and administrators around the state.

After a recent session in Anaheim, several counselors said they still felt unsettled.

“They kept saying that the subject tests are not required but could help. What does that mean? It is a little nebulous,” said Jared Fulton, acting assistant principal and a counselor at Los Amigos High School in Orange County. “You could argue both ways on what we heard.”