About the Author: Susan Powers is the founder of Woodlands Test Prep and a renowned test prep expert. She focuses on delivering the most up to date testing information to students, taking both the SAT and ACT twice a year.
Test Optional: Does that mean I can skip taking the SAT or ACT?
Does “test optional” mean I can ignore taking these tests?
Let’s break down this topic into some manageable chunks.
• What does a “test optional” policy mean? It means that schools don’t require test scores for a complete application. This is in contrast to a “test blind” application policy where schools will specifically not consider your test scores even if you send them. During the pandemic, most colleges announced a change in their application policies for the class of 2021 to a test optional policy. Many colleges have extended that policy to the class of 2022. You can check the policy of the colleges you're interested in here.
• What happens when a college goes test optional? Colleges experience at least two changes when they go test optional: average test scores rise and selectivity increases. Average test scores rise because students who are lower-scoring do not report their scores, so their overall average rises for the incoming class. Selectivity rises because students (incorrectly) perceive that it is easier to be accepted and more students apply.
The theory behind this was proven during the most recent application cycle. The most selective colleges in the U.S. saw a 17% increase in applications. Colleges like Harvard and Stanford saw even larger increases, some as high as 42%! As application numbers rise, college acceptance rates drop, increasing selectivity. In the most recent cycle, acceptance rates plummeted at the most selective U.S. colleges.
Both of these changes benefit the college, not the student. In some cases, students also benefit from these policies, although that isn’t clear across the board. Test optional does create a new avenue for students who truly struggle with standardized testing; however, schools still value test scores as validation of grades and transcripts. Bottom line: while it may be easier to apply, it is not easier to be admitted.
• So what to do? Briefly, if your scores are additive to your application, you should send them. While students in the class of 2021 had significantly fewer testing opportunities, students in the class of 2022 (especially in Texas) have plenty of opportunities to test. More selective colleges will expect and receive scores from most applicants. Like many other "optional" pieces of a college application, the most competitive students will be submitting all the optional pieces, including test scores.
Recent data from the University of Pennsylvania showed that students who submitted scores were admitted at twice the rate as students who didn't submit scores. While one cannot draw the conclusion that the submission of a score was the pivotal reason for the difference, one can conclude that the students who submitted scores had the most competitive overall applications.
Due to uneven transcripts with uneven high school experiences and reduced opportunities for internships and extracurriculars, most college admissions staff view test scores as a known quantity that can bolster your application. A solid strategy is to work toward getting the best score you can but don't send your scores right away. Once you are ready to apply, you can decide if your scores help your application.
As always, Woodlands Test Prep is here to help you think through what makes the best sense for you and your student. Please let us know how we can help!