Tests and Tribulations:
The CLT in a Test-Optional World

By Kate Colón-Crespo

Higher education has been going test-optional. Here’s why the CLT is still worthwhile.

Universities across the country have been making a change in their admissions that at one time seemed impossible: to go test-optional. These schools are allowing students to choose  whether or not they would like to submit their standardized test scores for consideration in their applications. 

Many reasons for this change have been noted, but two stand out most clearly. First, universities say they want to evaluate prospective students as people rather than a set of numbers and statistics. Jared Futura shows in his 2017 study, “Rationalization and Student/School Personhood in U.S. College Admissions,” that an emphasis on personhood is much more likely to occur in exclusive schools with an acceptance rate lower than 50%. These same schools have been shown, on average, to be test-optional. This data supports the claim that many test-optional colleges are seeking to emphasize the personhood and individuality of prospective students. 

The second reason that schools are going test-optional is that college entrance exams like the SAT® and ACT® cater to a certain type of learner. These tests are tailored to students who have been “taught to the test,” and are subsequently given an advantage over other students with different demographics or socio-economic backgrounds. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that students whose parents have received college degrees are far more likely to be successful on the SAT® than those whose parents did not pursue further education. Additionally, the same set of data shows a correlation between family income (ergo, access to education) and success on the SAT®. These findings show how standardized test scores can indeed be affected by other factors like income and access to education. Realizing this, some schools are moving to increase their accessibility by making score-submission optional.

Universities are striving to see their applicants personally and holistically; the CLT exhibits students' humanity by engaging them with history and culture.

Both of these objections to tests like the SAT® and ACT® are efforts to recognize that most standardized tests have become hoops for students to jump through rather than helpful evaluation of their intellect and abilities. Students spend hours reading about test-taking tips and strategies to gain as many points as they can when they could instead focus on developing themselves personally and intellectually. Going test-optional may seem like the best option to solve this problem, as it lets students show who they are in different ways: through extracurriculars, class grades, letters of recommendation, and volunteerism. There is, however, another solution that addresses the root of the problem: a new standardized test. 

The Classic Learning Test addresses the same problems that test-optional colleges are attempting to solve. Universities are striving to see their applicants through their humanity, to look at them personally and holistically; by taking the CLT, students are united to their humanity by engaging with the texts and authors that have shaped history and culture. In fact, by reading works from the CLT Author Bank, students are engaged in those very ideas that help them develop their own personhood. To connect with students as people, universities should embrace a test that recognizes their humanity. 

Universities are realizing that only certain types of people can succeed on the SAT® and ACT®. Rather than discounting tests altogether, admissions should turn their attention towards timeless principles like logic and critical thinking. These skills are not a test of students’ memorization or of adherence to Common Core standards, but rather of analytical and rational skills. These abilities are the most important signs of future success, as they form the foundation of  academic potential. 

A unified standard of comparison is valuable to admissions officers, because it helps them evaluate potential of success. The CLT gives universities this information, but does it using a method much more suited to the test-taker’s personhood. The student can take a test, read selections from great thinkers, consider elevating subjects, be exposed to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, all while exhibiting their analytical skills. If a standardized test is no more than a scale that measures how well someone has been “taught to the test,” then yes, schools should become test-optional. But if the test appeals to the shared humanity of the test taker, creator, and admissions person, then it can and should be thoughtfully considered in admission.


Kate Colón-Crespo (née Foley) is interning with CLT and studying English and History at Central Michigan University in Grand Rapids, MI. She recently married, and plans to pursue a career in education.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our series on the history of the great ideas, such as definition, necessity, and the state. Sign up for the CLT newsletter to get regular updates on the Journal and more!

Published on 21st June, 2022.

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