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Removing Barriers to Admission: The Effects of Waiving/Removing Entrance Tests on Graduate Applicant GPA and Academic Performance

We all have seen shifts in admission requirements for graduate education, some due to COVID-19 and others to attract prospective students and remain competitive. One of these shifts includes standardized admission exam requirements.

Trends in standardized test requirements for admissions

Standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT have been used for more than 100 years. While there are many positives to standardized testing such as objective measurement and assessment of specific quantitative and writing abilities, there are also downsides like costs, time to prepare, access, inconsistent use in admission decisions, and data that suggests standardized tests are not good predictors of success. These present barriers to graduate admissions and many institutions have modified admissions requirements to include test-optional or test-blind admissions, while many institutions have removed the requirement altogether.

At my institution in 2014, a waiver of recruitment was approved to allow graduate programs to waive test requirements with appropriate justification. Many programs lifted the requirement for applicants with a specific GPA, however there were still quite a few programs that required tests. In 2020, all programs were required to temporarily waive test requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, we also received an increase in admission applications.  

What do students think?

In July 2021, we sent a Qualtrics survey to current students who were admitted after Summer 2020 and not required to take an admission test. Yielding a 20% response rate, here were our results: 

Q1. Would you have applied for the same graduate program that you are in now if there was an entrance exam (GRE, MAT, GMAT) required to be considered for admission? 37% of respondents would not have applied to graduate school if they were required to take a standardized test; only 25% said they would have still applied. 

Some of the reasons that respondents said they maybe would or would not have applied are:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Rigor
  • Don’t do well on exams.

Based on the survey results, it seems that if our graduate programs were to continue to require standardized admission tests, this may have an impact on overall applicants and admits. However, there were still some programs that were hesitant to remove the requirement once the temporary waiver was lifted. One of the main concerns of removing standardized testing is how well students will perform academically once admitted. 

What is the impact on academic performance?

Is there a correlation between requiring standardized tests for admission and academic performance? I studied over 5000 admitted, degree-seeking students' incoming and first semester GPAs, and correlated the data with whether they were required to take a test for admissions over eight semesters.

Results show that incoming GPA and first semester GPA are fairly consistent across all terms and academic performance was not affected. The number of applicants required to take admissions tests decreased starting in Spring 2020 when the requirement was temporarily waived. From these results, most of our graduate programs have now removed the requirement altogether, with only a few exceptions. 

Implications for graduate admissions

The results from both the student survey and the data analysis indicate that standardized testing can be a barrier for applicants, yet does not seem to predict academic success based on our internal assessment. Additionally, while admission committees may favor inclusion of test scores, many admissions reviewers lack formal rubrics or guidelines for interpreting them. 

Recently, holistic review processes have been viewed as more favorable and comprehensive approaches to evaluating applications. Graduate schools and programs should regularly evaluate all admission requirements to determine what is required to minimize barriers and improve equity.

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