Each UC campus makes its own admissions decisions, also using grade-point averages, tests, student essays, extracurricular activities and other factors. A student deemed eligible for the UC system might be denied at the campuses he most wanted but will usually be offered enrollment by at least one other campus with space.
Counselors say they repeatedly remind students about the subject test requirement far in advance. Yet, inevitably, some teenagers contend they were never informed, others forget and some are just unwilling to spend another Saturday morning in a test hall. A few avoid it and focus on campuses, such as those in the California State University system, that don't require subject exams.
Eileen Doctorow, a college counselor at North Hollywood High School, said students who claim they never heard about the UC requirement "had to be living under a rock." However, because "they're kids and they don't pay attention all the time," she and other counselors help register panicky procrastinators for last-minute tests in their senior year.
The students who are scrambling at the end "are generally first-generation, lower-income kids who aren't that astute in the process and don't have parents guiding them through it," she said. Dropping the subject test mandate would eliminate an obstacle and "create greater access and greater equity," she said.
Some UC professors privately wonder whether the proposed change is a way around California's Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative passed by voters in 1996. Academic Senate Chairman Brown and other advocates of the proposal say it is not designed to boost any particular group, just to take down an unnecessary hurdle.
Ironically, some of the subject tests' biggest fans are minority families who speak a language other than English. Students who are fluent in a foreign language for which there is a subject exam, such as Chinese, Spanish and Hebrew, are allowed to take such a test and many count on doing well on it.
Denis Furlong, college counselor at Fairfax High School, said he knows that affirmative action is "a thing of a the past" but that the foreign-language tests are an "opportunity to diversify the campuses."
For example, Fairfax junior Sherry Yi, whose family speaks Korean at home, said she is going to take the Korean-language subject exam, along with other ones. She expects the Korean test will help her UC application but understands why the subject test requirement is debated.
"There are people who are bad at some basic SAT stuff but good at the SAT II," she said, referring to the subject tests. Any change "is going to benefit some people but not some other people."
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The University of California requires freshman applicants to take at least two of 19 SAT subject tests from the following groups: English, history and social studies, mathematics, science, languages.
Here are sample questions from three tests:
Major population shifts between 1915 and 1980 included all of the following EXCEPT a movement from
A) the rural South to Northern cities
B) New England to the Midwest
C) the North to the Sun Belt
D) the inner cities to the suburbs
E) the Caribbean region to the American mainland
Mathematics Level 2
In a group of 10 people, 60% have brown eyes. Two people are to be selected at random from the group. What is the probability that neither person selected will have brown eyes?
Which of the following most accurately reveals common ancestry among many different species of organisms?
A) The amino acid sequence of their cytochrome C
B) Their ability to synthesize hemoglobin
C) The percentage of their body weight that is fat
D) The percentage of their body surface that is used in gas exchange
E) The mechanism of their mode of locomotion
Correct answers: B, A, A
Source: The College Board and UC