State of the SAT and ACT: Test Availability and Test Optional

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It’s been difficult lately to keep up with all the news about the SAT and ACT, and we do this professionally! You’re likely wondering what to make of so many colleges and universities going test optional and whether students are actually taking the tests. And, more importantly, whether you should look to take a test! Those are highly individualized decisions, and we don’t want to advocate for anyone putting themselves in a situation they’re not comfortable with.

But should you decide that taking the test makes sense for you, here’s what you need to know.

Test Availability

Tests were universally cancelled from mid-March through the summer, but that’s no longer the case. The ACT began holding tests over summer, though those test sites were few and far between. We had many students travel to West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and one even to Iceland to take a test.

But that’s no longer the case. You no longer need to have your passport ready to take the SAT or ACT! Approximately 88,000 students throughout the country managed to find an open test center in July, and over 150,000 students took an ACT in August.

The numbers have only grown throughout the fall, with over 350,000 students taking the SAT in September and October. While the ACT hasn’t released its numbers lately, they did host several additional test dates in September and October, with many local testing centers actually hosting the test. Our students were actually able to take both the SAT and ACT at sites as near as Arlington and in Montgomery County in the last few weeks. So if you’re ready to test, so are the SAT and ACT.

Test Optional

Approximately two-thirds of the colleges and universities in the US have adopted Test Optional policies for Fall 2021 admissions, and it’s likely that many will also keep that policy for next year as well. But what exactly does “test optional” mean? It means exactly that: that sending in test scores is optional for admissions purposes. In fact, over 300 Deans of Admissions have signed onto a pledge stating that “No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests…”

It’s great that students without testing will not be at a disadvantage, but that doesn’t mean students can’t advantage themselves by taking the tests. For example, a great many of those schools that are temporarily test optional still require testing for merit aid or for admissions into honors colleges or special programs within the school. So if you’re at all interested in either of those, taking the test might be a good idea. And even if that doesn’t apply to you, it’s important to remember that almost all the components of a college application are optional. Colleges have always been extracurricular-optional and AP-optional and internship-optional, but that hasn’t stopped students from trying to craft applications that show their strengths through all vehicles open to them. And strong test scores are no different.

So if you’re a naturally great test taker, or you’re able to devote lots of time and energy to preparation in the midst of your online learning, or maybe don’t have the best GPA due to a slow start to your high school career, a great showing on a single Saturday morning still may have the power to open doors that might otherwise be closed to you. No matter the case, your primary job, now as always, is to keep getting those As in school, so certainly don’t let test prep get in the way of that this year. That’s a bad trade from both a learning standpoint and a college admissions one.

It’s important to note that other schools have adopted Test Blind or Test Free policies. That’s starkly different from Test Optional in that these schools (including most notably, CalTech, Reed College, and the UC Schools for in-state applicants) will not look at test scores in any way, so you shouldn’t even bother submitting them. For now, though, there are only a handful of selective schools that fall into this category, so scores will still be accepted most anywhere you choose to apply.

Aaron Golumbfskie

Senior Tutor & Education Director

Aaron is the Education Director at PrepMatters and has logged more than 10,000 hours of one-on-one tutoring, helping teens change their self-images and achieve success, whether on standardized tests or in academic classes. He continues to tutor every day, but, realizing that individual efforts don’t scale very well, he hopes to serve even more students by spending much of his time creating pe...

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