Should Non-Cognitive Assessments Play a Greater Role in College Admissions Decisions?
by Christian Perticone - Monday, January 28th, 2013 Admissions & Acceptance

Forget about ACT and SAT scores, should non-cognitive assessments play a greater role in college admissions decisions?  This is a livewire question, at least in certain academic circles. Most recently, experts debated the issue a week ago at a conference hosted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. 

You may ask, what exactly is a non-cognitive assessment? Unlike the ACT and SAT, non-cognitive assessments aim to directly measure qualities like a student’s work ethic, teamwork skills, acceptance of criticism, leadership abilities, conscientiousness, creativity, organizational skills, and many other traits that match up with academic and workplace success. These tests have long been used in HR hiring processes

In a way, college admissions officers already try to measure these qualities indirectly through essay prompts, written short answers, and teacher recommendations. Now, however, many colleges are considering the use of quantitative personality tests, like the Personal Potential Index (PPI), where students are scored on their personality traits. Their scores would be compared to those of other students, and perhaps count as much as ACT and SAT performance. In fact, schools like Arizona State University already use the PPI in order to evaluate graduate school applicant.

In an article written by Robert Tomsho for The Wall Street Journal, a Northeastern University student, Simona Vareikaite, says that she received an opportunity to become a Torch Scholar, and gained entrance to the university, because she scored well on the Program’s personality test. Though her SAT test scores were below average, she used the personality test to demonstrate that her compelling life story translated into real academic success skills. She had emigrated from Lithuania as a child, and had worked as an office cleaner from age 11 in order to support her family.

Of course there are other ways to look at Simona’s story. Some folks argue that awarding admission or scholarships to students for reasons apart from academic performance and standardized test scores amounts to injustice. Others say that non-cognitive assessments, while helpful at measuring intangibles, will not solve the complexities of predicting success. Other, more practical questions arise as well. In an article written by Eric Hoover for The Chronicle of Higher Education, expert Patrick Kyllonen indicated, at the USC conference last week, ‘such assessments, like conventional tests, are susceptible to coaching. Wherever tests go, test prep follows.’

As I see it, no injustices are being committed if the non-cognitive tests measure skills that directly translate into workplace success. These tests target skillsets not demographics. Secondly, would test prep that encourages students to consider all aspects of their individuality be such a bad thing? It’s hard to imagine how prepping for a non-cognitive test could be a rote, thoughtless endeavor. If these tests allow students to present fuller, more complex versions of themselves, then they are a step in the right direction.

Christian Perticone is a writer and teacher. He has an MFA from Arizona State University, and has taught Composition, Critical Thinking, and Creative Writing for ASU, Mesa Community College, and the National University of Singapore. He currently works with the CUNY Start Program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. On education, he thinks Hugo got it right, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”



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  1. Sam says:

    I agree with your position that these types of tests may be more well-rounded indicators of future success (perhaps in addition to current measures of standardized testing). I certainly would have appreciated them during the admission process of my own collegiate experience. This is a well written, thoughtful article. Thank you for posting.

  2. […] in school and life. “Non-cognitive skills” were mentioned as part of previous blog post, “Should Non-Cognitive Assessments Play a Greater Role in College Admissions Decisions?” From the perspective of an admissions officer, or an educator, the subject of non-cognitive […]

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