Should I Test Or Not Test? That Is The Question: The Future of Standardized Testing in College Admission

Should I Test Or Not Test? That Is The Question: The Future of Standardized Testing in College Admission

For years, the SAT and ACT have made up a mandatory component of the college admission process for a vast majority of students: standardized testing. Last year, as the effects of the pandemic unfolded in schools, it wasn’t readily apparent what would happen with standardized testing and many students registered for an ACT or SAT month after month only to find each administration cancelled due to safety concerns. Colleges responded accordingly with the vast majority unveiling test optional policies for college applicants this year. With the pandemic keeping schools online and/or prohibiting large scale testing across the country for a yet undetermined period this spring, many U.S. colleges and universities have started to release early statements confirming that they will remain test optional for students applying this fall. We expect that more will follow suit in the coming weeks and months whether schools are able to reopen before the end of the school year or not.

What does “test optional” mean anyway?

Test optional policies are really as simple as they sound: Students are able to decide if they would like to submit standardized testing (SAT or ACT) to the college to which they are applying. There is no negative impact if a student decides not to submit their test scores to a college with a test optional policy. For a handful of colleges in the past, they may request an additional essay, recommendation or writing sample in lieu of testing.

There are a few variations of test optional that may not be as clear: 

Test flexible – students may submit a combination of different standardized tests (AP, SAT or ACT) for consideration.

Test blind – the college or university will not accept testing from any applicant.

How do I know if I should apply without testing?

Depending on whether or not testing becomes available safely in your area, you may not be able to sit for a test at all, so you’ll be applying “test optional” by default. Please do not risk your health or safety, or commute several hours or more to sit for an ACT or SAT! It is unlikely to be worth the risk or expense.

If testing safely is an option in your local area, seek guidance first from your counselor. Based on your academic record, the most important component of your application, any practice test scores you have, and the schools that interest you, your counselor will be able to provide you with individualized advice about what will be appropriate for you. If you are a high tester, adding this score cannot hurt you of course, but students should be wary of thinking that test scores can make or break an application.

Is standardized testing going away?

It’s very possible that we may be seeing the beginning of a new era in college admissions – no standardized testing! The UC system has already gone as far as to phase out standardized testing, becoming fully test blind next year. Many selective universities such as Columbia had already announced last year that they would remain test optional for three years. Schools like Stanford, Rice and other highly selective institutions have made their plans to keep test optional policies for this upcoming year, which means more schools are sure to follow. 

The impact is already being felt by the testing companies. College Board announced recently that discontinuation of subject tests. The SAT IIs, as they had been previously called, had only been required or recommended by a small number of colleges but remained a source of stress for students seeking admission into the country’s most selective institutions. With these additional tests now defunct, that’s one less step to worry about. College Board also announced recent lay-offs of their employees, which suggests they are downsizing as demand for their products and services decrease. AP courses and testing will likely continue for the foreseeable future and Georgetown has already announced a switch from recommending SAT subject tests to recommending AP score reporting. AP scores are never required for admission, but most schools expect students to self-report their scores if they have taken them. ACT has yet to release any additional statements.

The pandemic has brought about a great deal of unrest and change to our society, but let’s hope that standardized testing is one good thing that leaves us with this virus in short order. 

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