Test-Optional and College Admissions: Think Twice

By: Joseph Corace | Last Updated: June 15, 2020

Coronavirus-related disruptions of high school education have extended to disruptions of SAT/ACT testing. Colleges are being propelled toward making SAT and ACT test score submission optional. But beware! Just because a school “goes test-optional” doesn’t mean that a student can summarily dismiss submitting SAT or ACT scores. We’ll explain why. And it’s important to know, so here’s some background.

person writing on paperThere is disagreement about the degree to which the SAT and the ACT measure what students have learned and how well they predict academic success in college. Regardless of the disagreement, it’s clear that high school students have been faced with a radically different learning paradigm than was the case pre-coronavirus. With fewer testing opportunities available to students, admissions officers are going to have a nearly impossible time comparing contemporaneous SAT/ACT scores with those of recent past test-takers, leaving admissions to wonder, “What do these scores truly indicate?” With classrooms shuttered and many grades changed to Pass/Fail, the current state of remote learning hasn’t helped clarify anything, either.

The issue of superscoring poses yet another difficulty in comparing SAT/ACT scores between those attained by students in previous years and even within the same year, because many students will have had fewer testing opportunities to improve their scores. The College Board recently asked colleges to provide flexibility to students when evaluating their applications, recognizing that those who do submit scores may not have been able to take the test more than once.

student stressed outUp to this point, then, you’ve read how confused the standardized testing picture seems to be. For years, these test scores have been second in importance in making admission decisions, second only to high school academic record. But here’s the rub: While confusion may last into the near future, high SAT/ACT scores are very likely to be even more meaningful to test-optional colleges! Let us explain.

 Consider two students with very similar academic records, but only one of them presents a test score above the college’s median score. It’s far easier to admit the student with the score, because the score also validates the student’s academic record, than it is to admit the student without the score. Note that “test-optional” does not equal “test-blind,” the latter meaning SAT/ACT scores won’t be considered even if submitted.

surprised childStudents who believe that getting accepted to college will be easier without test scores couldn’t be more incorrect: Only the emphasis will shift. And perhaps ironically, submitting high scores to test-optional colleges will likely make it easier to get accepted. That fact should be carefully noted, because test-optional colleges will receive far more applications than ever before, making competition that much greater! That’s a strong argument to work for, and to submit, really good test scores.

In his reply to a recent email from our founder, Judi Robinovitz, Jay Jacobs, Director of Enrollment Management and Admission Operations at the University of Miami, wrote that with respect tothe [application] review process for those students who apply without test scores, we will simply be reviewing the rest of the aspects of the admission application with a closer eye.”

woman presentingNow that we’ve explained the thinking behind submitting “optional” test scores, we turn our attention to every other aspect of your college application. We feel certain that the reduced testing opportunities − and thus the lower superscores of many applicants − will increase even more the importance of a student’s high school academic record (grades and rigor of curriculum), the depth of commitment to extracurricular activities (as reflected in the Activities section of applications and in résumés), the quality of writing and content in application essays, and recommendations. Heightened emphasis on all these application elements makes it essential that you present your very best face. Many newly test-optional selective universities, like Johns Hopkins University, reflected on their holistic admissions review process, reinforcing that admissions is about how students navigate their academic and personal circumstances, about academic character, impact and initiative, and match for its  community.

post-it note that says "important"Test-optional clearly makes this a time for students to be strengthening all other aspects of their applications − from taking challenging summer courses to writing more impactful essays − while doing whatever they can to improve their SAT/ACT scores. The team at JRA Educational Consulting is uniquely qualified and ready to help you do all these things, so contact us today to help you develop a plan to maximize your appeal to colleges.

P.S. Click here for a list of colleges that have recently adopted test-optional policies.

Topics: ACT/SAT College Application Test Optional


Like this post? Share it!

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Ready to move to the front of the class?

Let's discuss an educational plan that will get you or your student on a path to success.