Duke recently announced that the SAT essay and ACT writing section will no longer be required as part of prospective students' applications. Some students say the change to be a step toward equality, while others believe the change is useless or harmful.

Sophomore Jamal Burns believes that getting rid of the writing requirement of the ACT/SAT is the first step in “chipping away” at capitalistic testing structures that have shaped college admissions, and it is a good step for Duke and for equity. 

“If [the writing sections do] not serve as a proper indicator of performance, and admissions officers can see excerpts of your writing (via the common app essay) to determine your merit, then the writing section is rendered rather useless,” Burns wrote in an email.

Of the people he has spoken with, he noted that many of them do not believe their writing score aligned with their writing performance in school.

He further explained that the SAT/ACT writing sections may ask about topics that may be culturally unfamiliar to minority or low-income students, making it more difficult to write about them. Burns noted that questions in the other testing sections can be solved through deduction and reasoning, but the writing section cannot.

“I recall during the time I took the ACT, the writing prompt asked whether or not children should participate in competitive sports or activities,” Burns wrote. “I personally feel that is something low-income students wouldn't necessarily have an instant answer to, being that many competitive activities require money to partake in.”

He explained that anyone can say whether competitive sports are good or bad, but it is difficult to support the stance with evidence without first-hand experience. 

“Writing is not magic, it is formulaic," Burns stated. "However, low-income students are often never taught that formula.”

Senior Kristina Smith, Duke Student Government president, also supports the SAT/ACT requirement change because it removes application barriers for students.

“I think this change is wonderful progress towards the inclusivity of all students and all backgrounds, especially for those students who may have not been afforded an abundance of writing opportunities or writing education in school,” she wrote in an email.

However, first-year student Apoorv Jha noted that the decision may not have substantial impact. Students will have to take the writing section even if it is not required because other schools they apply to may require them.

Sophomore Milena Ozernova wrote in an email that she was dissatisfied that U.S. education is becoming much more focused on science, technology and math and that writing is becoming less important. 

She explained that as a Russian international student, the essay portion of the SAT/ACT was the most difficult for her because essay writing in Russia is very different than in the United States. 

Nonetheless, she explained that the decision may allow students to ignore writing as an important skill to develop.

“Writing is the basis of communication and human culture; it develops critical thinking, creativity, logic and most importantly, empathy,” she wrote in an email. “Now, after the new policy is implemented, the majority of STEM students will opt out of submitting the writing score. The lack of writing experience, which they would have needed to receive a good writing score, can greatly affect their interpersonal abilities.”