What is Test Optional? And should I submit my scores?

In recent months this has been the question I get asked the most. During Covid-19, SAT and ACT testing has been upended. With tests being canceled and students not being able to take standardized tests, many colleges and universities have waived their testing requirements. At least for the application class of 2021. Some are even considering test optional policies going forward. The University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024. What does all of this mean?

First, lets understand what Test Optional, Test Flexible and Test Blind mean. Test optional - a college applicant can apply to the college with or without test scores. Test Flexible - a college applicant will have to submit some form of test scores. Not necessarily ACT or SAT. It could be AP scores, IB scores, etc. Test Blind - a college applicant should not submit test scores, the college will not look at them. Students should always check a college or university admissions website and note the testing policy of that particular school.

There are many reasons colleges consider adopting a test optional policy.

  • Many colleges and universities believe that high test scores alone are not good predictors of college success. Rather, a holistic look at the student's entire application. *Academic rigor, *grades, Activities, Recommendation letters, and Essays. *Grades and rigor being most important.

  • Colleges want to increase diversity on their campuses. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, which believes standardized tests have racial, class, gender and culture barriers, noted that mean SAT scores of students whose parents did not attend any college decreased 12 points from 2018 to 2019.

  • Offering Test Optional tends to make a college look more selective and increase their score in rankings such as the US News and World Report. In a recent webinar, Michelle McAnaney, presented this math problem that explains how test optional can affect numbers.

Test Optional = Increase in applications

More Applications = More students to reject

More Rejections = Lower Admission Rate

Low Admission Rate = Higher place in Rankings

Colleges submit the middle 50% of test scores to determine rankings. Test optional students tend to have lower test scores and these scores are not reported to rankings. Therefore, the middle 50% is skewed higher than if all scores are included. Just another reason why students and parents should not use college rankings as a factor in determining if a student should apply to a particular college. It is much more important to determine a "good fit" school for your student based on their academic, social and financial needs.

  • Finally, due to Covid-19 many colleges and universities fear low application numbers and the inability to fill their Freshman class. By offering the test optional policy they believe they will receive a higher number of applicants.


NO! And here's why!

Now I'm not saying you should go crazy and travel 5 states away to try and test. However, if there is a testing center in close proximity and you feel comfortable (testing site is following Covid guidelines) you should take advantage of the opportunity and try to do your best. There are several reasons that submitting test scores could be beneficial:

  • Improve chances of getting accepted - A test score that matches or exceeds the students grades and rigor on their transcript could enhance their chance of acceptance

  • Assumption of low test score - If a student chooses to not submit a test score it could give the impression that their test score is low.

  • Merit Aid - Many colleges and universities use test scores to help determine merit aid. Although we are not sure how lack of testing will affect merit aid this year, if you have test scores it might enhance your chance for merit aid

How to determine if you should submit your Test Scores?

  • Do my test scores reflect my academic abilities? If your grades are high and your rigor strong does your test score reflect that? If your test score is on the low side that doesn't match up with academic abilities and doesn't represent you as well.

  • What is the middle 50% of test scores of the schools on my list? Most colleges report this information. You can find this information by typing the schools name in Google followed by Common Data Set. In part C, it will give you the middle 50% test scores. If your test score falls within that 50%, that would be considered a school where you are in the target zone for possible acceptance.

  • What type of school are your applying to? Sure, Harvard is test-optional but it is very very interested in seeing test scores. The more competitive the school, the more likely they are to suggest that you send in your test scores if you have them. Why, you might ask? Well, for one, if Harvard has two incredibly qualified, almost identical kids and one has an ACT of 35 and the other has no score, I can't imagine that won't influence their decision. I am not an admissions directors, but my speculation is based on years of experience in the field. You might find yourself asking, “well, how likely is it that two totally identical people will be up against each other?” The answer is, highly likely! A lot of qualified people apply to Harvard, et al.

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