Critical Update on Navigating Our Test Optional Landscape
Welcome to our updated, 2021-22 explainer on standardized testing. Feel free to share/reprint or utilize graphics with attribution!
If you feel you "need" to take the ACT or SAT, we get you. That's what everyone's been saying (hand up, me too) for years. But things are different now.
The Ivy League colleges are ALL test optional for the foreseeable future. All California public colleges are test BLIND. Outside of Georgia and Florida, test optional admissions is the norm.
The NCAA has waived standardized testing requirements for 2022 graduates and is in the process of eliminating them as a requirement permanently. Overall, about 80% of US colleges are now either test optional or test blind according to Fair Test. Going forward, it seems likely that about 70% of schools will remain test-optional or test blind for the foreseeable future.
Going forward the decision to take the SAT or ACT is more nuanced, and if you do take a standardized test, the decision to re-test to raise your scores or to submit test scores in your application is going to be school/context specific. Test expert Akil Bello has an excellent and detailed explanation here.
The “test optional” state of play:
- Test optional/test blind is the new normal. BUT 60% of students DO submit test scores. This number is somewhat inflated by a number of dysfunctional policies. Some high schools are still putting test scores on their transcripts, and some colleges are requiring submission of scores for students who have taken standardized tests. Expectations are that the marketplace will force equitable solutions, but change moves slowly and schools like Georgetown will continue to be dysfunctional in applying “test optional” policies or just mandate submitting scores and take the admissions hit.
- Everyone’s least favorite game show: “to submit or not to submit.” Generally, if your scores put you in the top 50% of a college’s admissions range, it pays to submit. Also, if a sub score validates excellence in your intended academic pursuit (i.e. you want to be an engineer and got a high math score), it may pay to submit even if your overall score is NOT in the top half. Also, since students are not submitting lower test scores, the averages are rising. It will be important to benchmark your decision on 2019 and older data for this cycle.
- Homeschool students may still need to submit test scores or find other methods to “validate” their academic level. This area is still evolving and is difficult for colleges to navigate. Often homeschooler outreach is incredibly valuable as schools wrestle with accurately evaluating divergent curriculums. Dual enrollment, AP courses and well documented real world experience can all add value to your admissions profile as a homeschooler.
- Admissions offices have now experienced test optional/test blind cycles on their campuses and are evaluating the data they have collected. This may provide additional nuance in test optional opportunity, but generally college presidents like the top line increase in applications (and thus the opportunity to increase selectivity). Not surprisingly, everyone survived not having these numbers for every student and it seems increasingly likely that many of the colleges who implemented “pilot” programs or other temporary versions of test optional will remain so in the future.
All this aside, some people are going to feel they need to take standardized tests. My analysis indicates testing remains beneficial for students from wealthier zip codes where average scores tend to be high, especially if the student's GPA is below the top 25% in their high school. Students who fit this profile are most likely to get standardized test scores that are higher than their GPA would predict, and these scores can result in higher likelihood of admission or more generous tuition discounts. If your test score is in concordance with your GPA or lower, submitting scores is less likely to benefit your admissions or financial aid opportunities.
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