Rather than just relying on test scores and essays, more fields should ask applicants to demonstrate their skill. Not only would this help differentiate between ‘qualified’ applicants, it can provide a better measure of what an applicant can actually do.
Performance standards (not content standards) are becoming increasingly more important. We often hear that some fields simply want to measure “objective knowledge.” However, every field has some application they can assess.
For instance, business schools could ask for recorded presentations. Engineering could ask for simulations. The Sciences could ask for experiments. Medical fields could ask for a recorded demonstration of a procedure.
Some institutions are concerned that learning presentation tools would present an insurmountable problem for applicants. However, this is not the case. The Khan Academy has just provided a very clear example by hosting the MCAT Competition for medical students to visually explain a complex problem. They included some resources on how to use basic drawing tools, make recordings, and post to YouTube.
Further, learning how to effectively convey knowledge is a critical part of every field. And learning how to use basic presentation tools are going to be part of professional life forever. How someone presents their knowledge/skill reveals a great deal about how they think and can even make the application process fun.
Essays are helpful to some degree, but why not use other kinds of engaging media that the web has made so readily available?