College applications can be overwhelming. Everyone wants to get into their top colleges, and everything you put on your application holds weight in the school’s decision. Or does it? Recently, standardized testing has become less popular, leading some schools to adopt a new form of application: test optional.
Standardized testing, like the SAT and ACT, was created to show “strong evidence that you’re ready for college and have what colleges are looking for,” according to the College Board, the company that created the SAT. However, in recent years, colleges and universities have been evaluating if this one test really measures your success in life, which made some schools switch to test optional. Then, when COVID-19 hit, many students did not have access to testing centers for the SAT and ACT, making more and more schools switch to test optional. However, test optional may not be fit for everyone to choose. As test scores have already been released, it’s important to know whether you want to send them or not.
Test optional schools do not require a student to send in their test scores, whether that is ACT or SAT scores, but are still regarded in the decision process. For the class of 2023, there are over 1,750 test optional schools, according to Forbes – More Than 80% Of Four-Year Colleges Won’t Require Standardized Tests for Fall 2023 Admissions. Additionally, some schools like the University of California (UC) schools, are going test blind through 2024, meaning that they do not look or require at any standardized test scores that the student submits, like the SAT or ACT.
This option of applying is also great for students who aren’t very comfortable in a very intense testing environment, like the SAT and ACT. Maya Grainger (‘24), is planning to take advantage of test optional applications. Even though she has taken the SAT, she doesn’t believe it reflects her abilities as a student. “Being able to sit down and take a test for three hours is not a representation of one’s intelligence because personally for me, it’s not that I don’t do well under pressure or that I’m not a good test taker, it’s more of I like to take my time. Trying to speed it up and produce an answer under a certain amount of time, it’s just not a representation of what I know,” she says.
For future high schoolers, does this mean you shouldn’t take the SAT? Jason Baker, a counselor for Oyster River High School (ORHS), recommends that all students take the SAT, and then go from there. “If they feel like they did really well, let’s hope that comes through on your score report. If you feel like you did okay, but you could improve then let’s talk to you about SAT prep. If you feel like the PSAT was awful for me, that SAT was awful, I just can’t improve, then maybe that student’s not taking it again and is maybe going to look at schools where they can go test optional.”
Once you get your scores, it’s important to check if you should send the scores to the schools you would like to attend. One good way of doing this is looking at the school’s test policy. For example, Hofstra University provides information on what score is considered average there, and also answers to some dilemmas students might have about their test scores. Niche is another website which shows you not only the SAT ranges, but also cost of the college, acceptance rate, popular majors, and more.
Kim Cassamas, another ORHS counselor, however, says there are certain types of schools that applying test optional would be nonbeneficial. “Any student that is applying to a very competitive school, because the acceptance rates are so low, I would say if they’re anywhere near their range of what they typically look for, I now do not view [test optional] as an option. I view that you need to send your score.”
If you choose not to send scores, you should know the risk, as test optional doesn’t mean that the SAT has no weight on a school’s decision. “When you look at over the years, certain students who had certain GPAs and take certain coursework, you are surprised if they’re not admitted to certain schools. And we definitely felt that especially last year being shocked at certain schools that would issue decisions that were not favorable to a student. And you try to figure out why. Then you ask, did you send your test scores? And overwhelmingly, those students said no,” said Baker. Fortunately, schools will write “highly encouraged to send test scores,” on their testing policy page, which will let you know if standardized tests will affect the college decision process.
Although some colleges, like MIT and Purdue, are already re-requiring SAT scores in applications, there’s no need to worry, as there are still issues with standardized testing. “How can you be putting so much stock into one three-and-a-half-hour test? What if the kid’s sick that day? What if they didn’t sleep because they were anxious about doing well? Anything’s possible; I don’t see it changing right now because it would be almost too rushed to change,” says Baker.
Above all else, test optional and test blind haven’t been bad for schools, he continues. “SAT was supposed to be this indicator of college success. Everyone went with that for a very long time, and then colleges started saying, let’s see if that’s true. I think that’s what’s going to happen with test optional. We scaled back our requirements. We don’t think it’s impacted admissions. Now let’s study if it’s if it’s impacted the long-term success of the students.”
– James Li