Today more than ever, the privacy of personal data is a growing concern in our society.

A steady stream of data breaches and the sale of personal information on platforms like Facebook has people wondering what happens to all the information they upload and who benefits from it.

One area where personal data is being collected that you may not have considered is standardized testing. That’s right: the organizations behind such tests as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT take the information students provide and sell it, primarily to colleges. Colleges have complex reasons for wanting students’ personal data, but they essentially boil down to two main purposes:

    • They want to identify students who are likely a good fit for their school; and
    • They want to identify students who are likely to attend their school if accepted.
How Information is Collected

Students provide most of this information to the standardized testing organizations voluntarily, usually in a “personal information” section (called Student Search Service on the SAT and Educational Opportunity Service on the ACT). This section can be part of the exam itself, or, as is the case with the ACT, it may be a survey students are asked to fill out when they register for the test. Many students and parents may not realize that this information is optional: students are not required to provide it, nor will it have any impact on their test scores.

Should Students Provide Their Personal Data?

While providing personal information is a choice that each student will need to make individually, we wanted to provide some of the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

Pros:

    • Learn about new opportunities. When students provide their personal data, they are likely to get a truckload of email and brochures from colleges, some of which they may not have been familiar with before. It’s possible a new school will come across your radar that is the perfect fit for you!
    • Ensure the exam is fair. Testing companies will use the geographic, demographic, and financial data you provide to do studies on test results. This helps them determine whether the tests have any biases that need to be addressed. However, there are other methods by which testing companies can perform these studies. Students should not feel obligated to provide their personal data specifically to “lend a hand” to testing companies.

Cons:

    • SPAM. Remember that truckload of mail we mentioned above? Some students find it overwhelming or unhelpful to sift through all of the college brochures, “scholarship” competitions, and other organizations marketing to college-bound high schoolers.
    • Your data is being sold for profit. While some people may be fine with exchanging their data for access to more opportunities, others have a big problem with the purchase of their personal information. This depends on your own feelings about privacy.
The Bottom Line

The personal information sections on any standardized test do NOT have to be completed. We want students to feel empowered to leave these sections blank if they determine that’s the right choice for them (although students, do make sure to complete any required information sections on the exam!). Parents and students may want to discuss whether to provide personal data for these tests. That may lead to a larger conversation about what kind of personal information is appropriate to share online in general, which is a concern that’s relevant to people of all ages.

Did you know Signet offers SAT and ACT diagnostic exams? Contact us for more information!