Over the past several years, the test-optional/flexible movement has been gaining traction in college admissions. COVID-19 has accelerated this movement, with what seems to be daily announcements from institutions going test-optional. The SAT has not had an administration in 2020, and ACT has canceled over 2500 sites for this Saturday’s test. College Board has also released a statement urging colleges to be flexible, due to the lack of options for testing.
The most significant player was the University of California, which accounted for over 215,000 applications for Fall 2020. For Fall 2021 & 2022, test scores will be optional, and the writing section will not be required (the UC was one of just a handful still requiring it). Then, the system will be test-blind for California residents, but still optional for out-of-state and for guaranteed admissions programs. By 2025, the UC hopes to create their own test; if unable, they will eliminate standardized tests for admissions. Additionally, highly selective institutions like Dartmouth, University of Virginia, Cal Tech, and the University of Pennsylvania have recently changed their testing policy for the Class of 2025.
As you can see, this can be a convoluted process, and with thousands of schools making their own decisions, it’s easy to be confused. So, we are going to break down test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind admissions, and whether you could benefit.
Test-optional is the most common. At face value, this means students have the “option” to choose to submit test scores. They are not “penalized” in admissions if they do not submit scores, but it doesn’t mean that no students submit scores. In fact, strong test scores could benefit a student more than if the school did require test scores. Also, sometimes students are not eligible for the highest merit awards, or special programs if they choose not to submit test scores. Additionally, test scores may be required for specific populations, like international or home school students.
Test-flexible is when a school doesn’t require the SAT or ACT, but students have to submit something in place of the SAT or ACT. For example, the University of Rochester allows SAT Subject exams, AP, IB, AS- and A-Level exams, and Brandeis allows a graded analytical sample or an additional recommendation letter from an academic teacher, among more traditional options. Read the fine print and decide which option will be best for you. They have no preference; otherwise, they wouldn’t give you options.
Test-blind is the most straightforward of the three. It means admissions will not consider test scores, even if a student submits them. This is why the UC decision is such a big deal. If colleges don’t look at scores, there is no point in taking the tests. As of June 8, 2020, the California State University System (CSU), Catholic University, Hampshire College, Loyola New Orleans, Northern Illinois University, and the University of New England are the only test-blind schools in the US.
Should you submit test scores?
Like many questions in college admissions, the answer is “it depends.” First, you need to research if your school(s) have a test-optional/test-flexible/test-blind plan. If they do not, then obviously you need to submit test scores. If they do, look at the details. Will you still be eligible for special programs or merit aid? Do you have the other criteria asked within the test-flexible criteria (like the graded analytical sample or 3 AP scores)? Where does your test score fall in their freshman profile? If it is in the upper 25%, your score may help, especially if your GPA is on the lower end or you don’t have the extracurricular strength.
On the other hand, if you have a strong GPA, and your test scores are toward the bottom 25% of the freshman profile, you could benefit from not submitting your score. Another thing to note is, have you been able to take the SAT or ACT? Due to COVID-19, tests have been canceled since March, and many students may not have had the opportunity to test. If you don’t have test scores and testing does not resume in the fall, you may not have the option to submit your test scores.
Speaking of COVID-19, how has this impacted the test-optional movement?
As of June 4, 2020, over 15o colleges have adopted some sort of test-optional policy due to COVID-19. Some of these schools dove headfirst, implementing a permanent plan. Some are test-optional for Fall 2021, and others are operating a three-year pilot to collect the necessary data before a full transition. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If testing is not able to resume in the fall, or if it is online, I anticipate even more colleges taking the plunge into test-optional admissions. Regardless of what happens, the ride will be interesting.
Wondering if your schools are test-optional?
Fair Test, a non-profit organization, provides up-to-date data on the schools that have adopted test-optional policies as well as a host of resources advocating for fair and opening testing. You should also check on the college’s admissions page to see
In conclusion, it is essential for you to carefully examine the testing requirements for the schools on your list. Identify the pros & cons of submitting test scores and note any opportunities you would not be eligible for if applying test-optional. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions- admissions counselors are there to help.