The Truth About ‘Test Optional’

The Truth About ‘Test Optional’

From the Author

Test Optional: Does that mean I can skip taking the SAT or ACT?

Nope.  While it may be easier to apply, it is NOT easier to get in – at all.

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 such as that used by the University of California system and California State University system. These 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 because most students had no access to testing opportunities.  Many colleges extended that policy to the class of 2022. However, the University of Tennessee system, Auburn, MIT, and Georgetown have announced that future classes will need to submit scores with their applications, and many other colleges (in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in particular) have already returned to (or never stopped) requiring scores so be prepared for more colleges to follow suit.  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 admission rates decrease.  Average test scores rise because students who are lower-scoring do not report their scores, so the overall average rises for the incoming class.  Admission rates fall because students (incorrectly) perceive that it is easier to be accepted and more students apply while the number admitted stays the same. 

These effects were seen again during the 2022 application cycle.  The most selective colleges in the U.S. saw enormous (sometimes even double!) increases in applications from pre-pandemic levels. 

Both of these changes benefit the college, NOT the student.  In some cases, students also benefit from these policies, although that isn’t clear overall.  While test optional does create a new avenue for students who truly struggle with standardized testing; schools clearly value test scores as a validation of grades and transcripts.  Grade inflation is real. According to the College Board, over 60% of college applicants in the class of 2021 obtained a 4.0 or better. According to ACT, Inc., grade point averages have risen over the last several years while ACT scores have fallen slightly. Bottom line: while it may be easier to apply, it is not easier to be admitted – at all.  

Should I send my test score?  Briefly, if your scores are additive to your application, you should send them.  If you’re not sure whether your scores are additive, you should probably still send them. Because of the increase in average test scores over the last couple of years, when comparing your score to a prospective university’s range, be sure to look at their ranges pre-pandemic.

According to data from the most recent admissions cycle, students applying with test scores were admitted up to 2.7 times as frequently as students who applied test optional! That’s a clear preference for applications for scores.

While students in the (pandemic) class of 2021 had significantly fewer testing opportunities, students in the class of 2023 have normal opportunities to test.  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.

What does the future hold? I don’t have a crystal ball, but if Auburn, MIT, the University of Tennessee system, and Georgetown’s recent decisions are any indication, many test optional policies will continue to revert to test required. According to MIT, test scores help them more accurately assess a student’s readiness for their program.

MIT’s Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill said, “We are reinstating our requirement, rather than adopting a more flexible policy, to be transparent and equitable in our expectations. Our concern is that, without the compelling clarity of a requirement, some well-prepared applicants won’t take the tests, and we won’t have enough information to be confident in their academic readiness⁠ when they apply. We believe it will be more equitable⁠ if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores.”

In other words, top-tier colleges care about your test scores. They adopted test-optional policies so students who did not have the chance to take the exam due to Covid-19 could still apply. Data coming out (like from here) proves that test scores matter, and it’s possible that other schools will soon follow MIT’s lead in transparency and drop their test-optional policies. In fact, according to a survey by Ernst & Young and the Parthenon Group conducted in 2021, 20-30% of universities surveyed claimed they would likely move back to test-required policies within 3-5 years. Selective schools including Stanford have openly discussed their intent to once again require a college entrance exam score, and Yale has echoed MIT’s sentiments about the importance of test scores when making admissions decisions. 

Other schools, including University of Texas at Austin, University of North Carolina, and certain schools within the University System of Georgia announced a return to requiring college entrance exams and then shortly reversed their decisions. Remember, test-optional policies benefit the school, not often the student, and schools might be slow to relinquish their boost in ratings due to increased selectivity and average test scores. However, as universities continue to follow the path of MIT, it seems likely that more schools, especially those considered selective, will join this game of follow-the-leader.

So what to do? Due to uneven transcripts with uneven high school experiences and very real grade inflation, most college admissions staff view test scores as a known quantity that can validate 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 if you’re applying to a test-optional school.

As always, Woodlands Test Prep is here to help you through this process. Call us at 713-205-1807 for your free consultation, and we can discuss if test prep tutoring would help your student on their college journey. Remember, we teach; you relax!

Woodlands Test Prep celebrates 10 years of helping students achieve their test best

Woodlands Test Prep celebrates 10 years of helping students achieve their test best

News

Woodlands Test Prep is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2022!  Growing from a solo tutoring practice to a full-service educational services company, Woodlands Test Prep has carefully put together a full set of tutoring services, including test prep for the SAT, PSAT, and ACT and academic and AP tutoring for math, science, history, language arts, and foreign language subjects.  

We sat down with Susan to talk about her ten years in business: how her company was created and how it has impacted The Woodlands community.  What originally began as a small side hustle has ended up becoming one of the most influential tutoring services in The Woodlands.  

Meet the Founder

Susan started tutoring in 1995 as a hobby. When asked what drew her to tutoring, she said: 

“I’ve always loved standardized tests. I just think they’re fun. Even as a kid, I thought they were fun. So I’ve obviously always been a little bit weird ha ha!”

Indeed! This “weird” love for tests made Susan an engaging tutor, which she found was exactly what students needed to succeed. After taking a break from teaching SAT and GMAT classes in order to raise children, she was ready for a side hustle and realized that what had been her fun hobby could become her business. Susan said:

I asked myself, what do I like doing? And I thought, okay, I like tests.  Then I started Woodlands Test Prep, and it honestly grew far beyond any expectations I ever had. Pretty soon I had a number of tutors working for me and was doing practice tests for the library and for schools here in the area. It’s been a joy from the beginning.”

It’s obvious that she and her team of tutors not only have fun teaching students how to succeed on their college entrance exams but are experts in the field of test prep as well. Over the past several years, Susan’s average scores have been a 1580 on the SAT and a 35 on the ACT, and she only hires tutors who show a similar affinity for these tests. With a love for tests and tutoring and Susan’s honed curriculum, she and her team of expert tutors are ready to help any student succeed. 

To stay up-to-date, Susan is an active member of the NTPA (National Test Prep Association), where she collaborates with other test prep professionals.  She also was featured on the podcast Tests and the Rest on episode 231. All this professional development is passed on to her tutors and also shared via her blog on Woodlands Test Prep’s website. You can read expert information along with Susan’s professional thoughts and opinions on everything from the new digital SAT to what test optional really means for your student.

About Woodlands Test Prep and Its Services

Woodlands Test Prep is experienced in helping every student meet their greatest potential.  Taking the SAT, ACT, or PSAT is a skill that can be learned and polished. Whether your student needs help with math, science, language arts, or social studies, they can help.  No matter where your student is starting, focused test preparation and academic tutoring helps not only improve a student’s score or grades, but also their confidence.  Susan commented: 

“Our team of tutors is really without peer.  I feel so lucky to have each and every person on the team.  Only tutors with both heart and serious academic chops make the cut to join our team.  Each tutor is genuinely an expert in the topic or skills he or she is teaching, besides just being a ton of fun to be around.”

They provide customized test preparation several ways: one-on-one in-home tutoring, small class format, and proctored practice tests. Working this way allows them to uniquely target your student’s needs.  They provide proven, successful strategies and skills. Plus, they identify and polish any test content areas that need attention.

For high-achieving students, they offer a “Goal 1600 Class” each summer designed to push them even further. In the last five years, 25 of their students went on to become National Merit Semi-Finalists!

Test prep tutoring is an investment in your student’s future, but it is also a financial investment that can have a significant return. Not only can it help students get the score they need to get into college, but it can open doors for grants and scholarships that might have been previously closed. Here’s what one mom had to say about it:

My daughter took one-on-one tutoring this summer to raise her ACT score to get accepted to A&M. She met with an amazing tutor once a week who coached her, and then she also took the practice tests available through your organization before taking the ACT a second time. Thanks to her score, as well as other aspects of her application, she is now going to be Texas A&M Class of 2026! 

The return on investment was outstanding, as her backup school was offering her $3,000/year renewable for four years due to her ACT score and her class rank. For anyone wondering if your service is worth the cost, please let them know it was for us.

If your student needs support for academic success or if college is a part of your student’s future, Woodlands Test Prep is just what your student needs to succeed. Call them today to learn how they fit into your child’s journey to college and beyond.

Click here to learn more about Woodlands Test Prep or call (713) 205-1807 to set up a session today!

Our Goal 1600 Class

Our Goal 1600 Class

Classes

Taking the SAT can be a real challenge. Trying to get a top score on the SAT is an even bigger challenge. Students aiming for these near-perfect scores have unique needs.

Our Goal 1600 class is specifically designed for students aiming for National Merit Semifinalist and top percentile SAT scores. This class goes quickly through the regular content and focuses then on strategy and practice for the hard questions. In order to help ensure students are in a class that best suits them, students must meet a minimum SAT score (or equivalent PSAT score) of 1300 to be admitted to the class.

According to Susan Powers: “Students in Texas are in an extremely competitive arena.  National Merit Semifinalists can only miss one or two questions per section of the test.” This means that error prevention is a main focus of the class, with strategies notably different from basic SAT strategies.  “When creating this class, I focused on what this specific group of students needs because this type of class isn’t available elsewhere in The Woodlands.”

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