Across North Carolina and the nation, high school seniors are sweating their college applications and fretting about one number: their SAT score.
But not students aiming for Wake Forest University, which no longer requires students to submit the standardized test score. Wake Forest was the first highly ranked research university to announce the move away from the SAT in 2008.
Since then, the university in Winston-Salem has become more racially and socio-economically diverse. Pell Grant recipients almost doubled. Students of color increased from 18 percent to nearly 23 percent.
Along the way, the university also noticed an uptick in the number of students with an exemplary high school track record, which, research shows, is the best predictor of college success. The percentage of Wake Forest first-year students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes grew from 65 percent in 2008 to 83 percent last fall.
"We feel like we have attracted students that have achieved a great deal in the classroom, who are very talented, who are very bright, who are very hardworking students but who had one thing going against them and that was the SAT," said Martha Allman, admissions dean at Wake Forest.
"When we became test-optional, we started seeing these wonderful students that perhaps we would not have seen in our applicant pool before."
The university's results are reported in a new book, "SAT Wars," edited by Joseph Soares, a sociology professor at Wake Forest. The book undercuts the notion that standardized tests are a good indicator of future academic achievement.
It is published as North Carolina embarks on a new era of testing. Starting in March, the state will require high school juniors to take the ACT, the other major college entrance exam used in the United States. The state does not require the SAT, but it is the most commonly administered entrance exam among college-bound students in North Carolina.
The effort will cost the state $5.5 million.
Soares has been an outspoken critic of college entrance exams, which he describes as having built-in biases and a discriminatory effect. He said North Carolina's plan makes no sense.
"It's money being flushed down the toilet," he said.
June Atkinson, the state superintendent, said the ACT will be one useful component in evaluating performance of students and schools.
"What we want to gain from administering ACT - which is more content-based than SAT - is that we want to have an indication of whether students have the content necessary for them to be college-ready," she said.
The ACT, which generally has not been used as a college entrance exam in North Carolina, was chosen because it includes a section on science, Atkinson said.
Because most colleges still require the ACT or SAT, all North Carolina high school students will have one test under their belt - paid for by the state.
And, Atkinson said, the ACT can help the state identify weaknesses in academic content areas.