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The following series of questions and answers is divided into three areas. To skip to one of the sections, click on:

Standardized tests
Current UC admissions requirements
The BOARS proposal


Standardized tests

  1. Where does UC stand concerning the SAT?
    The University of California faculty's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) has released preliminary recommendations concerning the proposal to end the SAT I requirement at UC. The BOARS committee, part of the UC Academic Senate, has called for replacing the SAT I with achievement tests that show a demonstrable relationship to college preparatory classes in high school. The BOARS committee recommends a new testing array, to be developed with the separate assistance of the College Board and ACT. As proposed, this new test will not put additional test burdens on students applying to UC. Approval by the Academic Senate and Board of Regents is still needed and any test changes are not anticipated until Fall 2006 at the earliest. The BOARS recommendations are in response to a proposal launched by UC President Richard C. Atkinson in February 2001.
    [For BOARS Proposal] http://www.ucop.edu/news/sat/boars.html

  2. What is the SAT I?
    The SAT I is a standardized test required for admission to many American colleges and universities. The test focuses on verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities that are related to successful performance in college.

    The SAT I is a multiple-choice examination that consists of seven sections, each timed separately. There are two 30-minute sections and one 15-minute section on verbal skills, and two 30-minute sections and one 15-minute section on mathematical skills. There also is an experimental 30-minute section, focusing on either math or verbal skills, which does not count toward the scores.

    Students receive two scores on the test-one for verbal and one for math-and each is reported on a 200-to-800 scale where 800 is a perfect score. Students who do not answer any questions receive a score of 200. The SAT I is administered seven times per year, and students may take it more than once. The cost of the test is $24 per administration, and fee waivers are available for eligible students.

  3. What are the SAT IIs?
    The SAT IIs are individual Subject Tests lasting one hour each. These tests are designed to measure knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in specific subject areas. Students use the Subject Tests to demonstrate their preparation for college in specific content areas, whereas the SAT I functions as a standard by which the verbal and mathematical reasoning skills of college-bound students can be compared.

    Subject Tests are given in five areas:

    English: Writing, Literature
    Mathematics: Math Level IC, Math Level IIC
    History and Social Studies: U.S. History, World History
    Science: Biology E/M (Ecological/Molecular), Chemistry, Physics
    Languages: Chinese with Listening, French, French with Listening, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening, Latin, Spanish, Spanish with Listening, and ELPT™ (English Language Proficiency Test™-not accepted at UC).

    The format of SAT II tests is generally multiple-choice, though there are variations; for example, the Writing Test includes a 20-minute essay section. All Subject Tests except the ELPT are scored on a 200-to-800 scale.

    The SAT IIs are administered once in January, May, June, October, November, and December, though not all subjects are available on each administration date. The cost for the SAT IIs are as follows: Writing test $11, Language test $8, other tests $6, plus a $13 basic fee added to each test sitting (multiple tests can be taken in one sitting). Fee waivers are available for eligible students.

  4. What is the ACT?
    The ACT is a standardized test designed to assess high school students' general educational development and their ability to begin college-level work. The tests cover four areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete with breaks. Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes.

    Scores are reported on a scale ranging from 1 (low) to 36 (high) for each of the four tests and for the Composite. The Composite is the average of the four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

    The ACT is administered five times per year, and the registration fee is $23.

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Current UC admissions requirements

  1. What are the "a-g" courses required of high school students for UC admission?
    The following courses are required to establish UC eligibility for freshman admission:
    1. History/social science-two years
    2. English-four years
    3. Mathematics-three years
    4. Laboratory Science-two years in at least two of the three fundamental disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics
    5. Language other than English-two years
    6. College Preparatory Elective-two years (courses from the subjects listed above plus visual and performing arts)

    Beginning in 2003, the "f" requirement above will become one year of work in Visual and Performing Arts (the new "f"), and the "g" requirement will be one year of College Preparatory Elective (the new "g" requirement).

    The purpose of the "a to f/g" requirements is to ensure that entering freshmen:

    • Can participate fully in the first year program at UC in a broad variety of fields of study;
    • Have attained the necessary preparation and requisite skills in fundamental discipline areas;
    • Have attained a body of knowledge that will provide breadth and perspective to new, more advanced studies; and
    • Have attained essential critical thinking, writing and study skills.

  2. What are UC's current standardized testing requirements for applicants?
    UC requires scores from the SAT I (scores from the same sitting) or ACT (composite score), along with scores from three SAT II Subject Tests: Writing, Math (either level), and a third exam in English literature, foreign language, science or social studies.

  3. How does UC use these tests in determining eligibility and making admissions decisions?
    To determine students' eligibility for admission to the UC system, the university uses a statewide eligibility index-a sliding scale in which relatively low high-school grade-point averages can be offset by high test scores, and vice versa. High school GPA is the driving factor for eligibility, in that modest test scores are required of students who have average to above-average grade-point averages. SAT II scores (composite of three exams) weigh more heavily than the SAT I total or ACT composite score in the index computation, accounting for 75% of the "weight" in the test score component. Details on the eligibility index are available on the Web at: http://www.ucop.edu/pathways/infoctr/introuc/fresh.html

    In addition, UC recently adopted an "Eligibility in the Local Context" (ELC) policy, effective for the fall 2001 entering class, under which high-ranking students in each California high school are eligible for freshman admission. Students in the top 4 percent of their high school graduating class, who have completed specified academic work by the end of the 11th grade, are automatically UC-eligible under this policy. Minimum standardized test scores are not required to become ELC-eligible.

    After a student is determined to be eligible for the UC system, individual campuses make offers of admission to the student. Freshmen are selected primarily on the basis of academic achievement and potential, demonstrated in large part by high school GPA and scores on standardized tests. Special talents and accomplishments in the context of disadvantaged circumstances are also taken into account. The criteria vary among UC's eight undergraduate campuses.

  4. Why does UC use standardized tests?
    Standardized tests are useful in comparing academic achievements and/or ability of students from different schools and with different academic preparation. Standardized tests are a helpful tool in educational decision making when used correctly.

  5. What tests do other universities require in the admissions process?
    Below are example of institutions that require only the SAT I or ACT composite score:
    • University of Georgia
    • University of Illinois
    • University of Maryland
    • University of Michigan
    • Penn State-SAT I or ACT math & English only
    • Stanford University
    • SUNY-SAT I or ACT required at 21 campuses. Stony Brook also recommends three SAT II Subject Tests.
    • University of Washington
    • University of Wisconsin
    • Yale University

    Below are examples of institutions that require the SAT I or ACT, plus SAT II Subject Tests:

    • University of California-Subject Tests: Writing, Math (either level), and a third test in English literature, foreign language, science or social studies
    • Dartmouth College-any three Subject Tests except ELPT
    • Harvard University-any three Subject Tests
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Subject Tests: Mathematics, Science, and a third from a different area
    • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill-SAT II Math IIC only
    • University of Virginia-Subject Tests: Writing, Math (either level), and a third test
    • Williams College-any three Subject Tests

    Finally, the following institutions are among those requiring the SAT I plus three SAT II Subject Tests, or the ACT in lieu of SAT I and SAT II:

    • University of Pennsylvania
    • Wesleyan University
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The BOARS proposal

  1. What is BOARS proposing?
    BOARS is proposing that the University of California no longer require the SAT I for admission to the UC system. The university would not alter its present admissions criteria (which include and SAT I or ACT and SAT II requirement,) pending the approval of the proposal and the development of new standardized tests directly tied to the college preparatory curriculum in high school. BOARS is part of the university's systemwide Academic Senate, which is the faculty's representative body and has responsibility for recommending to the Board of Regents the university's admissions standards.

  2. What is the problem with the SAT I?
    Unlike curriculum-based tests, the SAT I is not directly related to subject matter covered in high school coursework. Admissions processes that rely strictly on aptitude tests like the SAT I de-emphasize the importance of mastering the high school curriculum. Furthermore, considerable time in the classroom and at test-preparation courses is focused on improving SAT I test scores rather than expanding the student's knowledge of subjects and developing reading and writing skills.

    The SAT I-particularly its verbal analogy section-has been heavily debated in California because it lacks a clear relationship to specific skills required for UC-level work. Parents have no way of knowing what the SAT I measures and how they can assist their children to do better.

  3. How would students benefit from the elimination of the SAT I requirement, and the use of a new standardized test more directly tied to the college preparatory curriculum in high school?
    Examinations would test what is taught in the classroom. Students and teachers would therefore have a well-defined set of standards for specific subject areas. Time spent in the classroom would be devoted to developing reading, writing and mathematics skills, along with mastery of other subjects that help prepare students for college. Students would know that their test scores reflect their mastery of subject material, rather than poorly defined "academic potential."

  4. Won't this proposal lower UC's standards for freshman admission?
    No. On the contrary, it will raise standards by using tests that assess actual mastery of academic coursework as opposed to mastery of test-taking skills. BOARS is not proposing to eliminate standardized tests in the admission process; rather, it is proposing to use only those tests which have a demonstrable relationship to the high school curriculum. Eliminating the SAT I requirement would help strengthen the academic preparation of UC applicants by focusing their attention on doing well in school, not mastering strategies for succeeding on a three-hour aptitude test.

  5. What are examples of good practices in the admissions process? Are the SAT II and high school grade point average examples of appropriate standards in admissions?
    High school GPA and SAT II scores represent measures of academic success in core coursework, rather than general cognitive abilities. When exam scores are considered in the context of a student's learning environment, they become more meaningful and can be used more fairly to assess academic achievement. Ideally, the SAT II exams would be directly tied to the California curricula standards.

    Schools, teachers, students and parents will be well served by tests that are demonstrably related to curricular standards and core competency expectations. More specifically, the tests should measure competency in core subject areas-reading, writing, literature, mathematics, and the social and physical sciences-and they should offer sufficient feedback to schools and students to help them improve their performance. Appropriate assessment tools can be helpful in providing such feedback.

  6. How does this proposal complement the accountability-based educational reforms that have been launched in California in recent years?
    Gov. Gray Davis and the California Legislature have instituted a series of educational reforms that raise the bar in terms of academic expectations for students and overall school performance. The cornerstones of these reforms include: academic content and performance standards by grade level and subject area; curriculum frameworks and textbooks aligned to content standards; a state testing system that includes a nationally normed achievement test and criterion-referenced subsections that measure students' progress against state adopted standards; intensive professional development programs for teachers focused on reading (especially in the primary grades), mathematics (especially algebra for middle school students), and English language development; and a high school exit exam aligned with state content standards.

    The BOARS proposal addresses the issue of alignment between what students are taught and expected to learn in K-12 and the academic, subject-specific criteria by which students are evaluated for purposes of UC admission. By focusing on alignment, UC will provide students, teachers and parents with a clear understanding of the academic skills required for college; foster coherence between curricula standards and expectations in high school and entry level courses for freshmen; create a stronger, more direct connection between what students accomplish in high school and their prospects for admission to UC; and focus student attention on the mastery of subject matter rather than test preparation based on generic academic standards.

  7. Does the SAT I improve upon the ability of high school grades and SAT II exams to predict a student's performance in college?
    The SAT I adds little, if any, value to the equation. Statistically, when high school GPA and SAT II scores are used to predict first-year performance at the university, adding the SAT I score adds a very small increment to the correlation. Practically, however, this increment has little or no significance for the admissions process because the vast majority of the prediction is accounted for by the GPA and SAT II. Since the SAT II exams are better measures of a student's mastery of high school subject matter, they are the better tests to use.

    For a preliminary analysis of predicting student success at UC, see Latest Research.

  8. What are the review process and implementation timeline for the BOARS proposal? What is the earliest possible date this change could take effect?
    Changes in UC's test score requirements could, at the earliest, be implemented for the class entering in fall 2006. However, it is important to note that the university operates under a framework of shared governance, in which the Academic Senate has responsibility for recommending revisions to eligibility policies to the president and Board of Regents. The BOARS proposal will be reviewed by the campus divisions of the Academic Senate as the next step in this process. It would eventually go before the Board of Regents for final approval. Design and definition of any new admissions test would be contingent on this approval and UC admissions criteria would not change until a new test is successfully developed.

  9. What is meant by a "holistic" admissions process?
    A holistic review consists of a comprehensive assessment of all information provided on the application, including academic performance, extra-curricular accomplishment or special talents, personal qualities (e.g. leadership, motivation, perseverance), response to life challenges, and likely contribution to the intellectual and cultural vitality of the campus. Through Comprehensive Review, UC campuses have implemented a more holistic assessment of applicants, as opposed to a limited quantitative assessment.

  10. Arenít holistic review processes too expensive?
    No, private universities have used holistic review processes for decades. There is no reason why public universities canít do the same. UC Berkeley has shown that they can.

    Admission to UC can change a young personís life. We have an obligation to review applicants in their full human complexity. It is too important a responsibility to do quickly or superficially. It is a matter of setting priorities and having a fair admissions process must be the highest priority for an American university.

  11. How might test score reports be made more useful for students and for UC?
    Test score reports could be more useful to students if they explained the strengths and weaknesses of students' performance on specific components of each subject exam. In this way, students and teachers would have important information to guide them to improve performance.

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