What to Make of the Test-Optional Movement

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It’s been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic closed our schools, thus forcing the hands of admissions offices and testing agencies in a number of ways. With most testing opportunities quashed for months, admissions offices were left with little choice but to open test-optional pathways for college applicants from the high school class of 2021. This galvanized an until-then crawling movement of colleges to recognize that it is indeed possible to build a freshman class without standardized test data. So what does that mean for the class of 2022?

Most Colleges Are Staying Test Optional

According to FairTest, well more than half of all bachelor-degree granting institutions are already committed to test-optional policies for the high school class of 2022, and its executive director predicts that this figure will approach or even possibly exceed 70%. It is reasonable to believe that this number will only grow over time and that the College Board and ACT will need to adapt to different kinds and levels of demand for their services.

Colleges Are Looking for Other Components to Measure

An admissions officer job is to evaluate an applicant based on a number of criteria and data. Without test scores, what has historically been a major indicator for some colleges is now — poof — gone. This vacuum can be filled by placing greater emphasis on other traditional components of the application (e.g., grades and rigor) and a new approach to non-cognitive skills.

For instance, Santa Clara University recently reported at the NACAC Test-Optional Forum that they could demonstrate the same or similar outcomes for admitted students based on academic rigor and GPA without test scores. Many colleges, such as Harvard University and Trinity College, account for qualities such as grit, delayed gratification, comfort in the minority of one, and others by evaluating the evidence of such traits with a metric approach, literally trying to measuring them in a standardized way.

So as you put together your application materials, be sure to fully reflect on all the moving parts of the application process so that you convey a full sense of your experience and identity, whether you plan to include test scores or not.


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You Should Probably Still Look into Standardized Testing

All this said, having standardized test score can indeed add meaningful data to a student’s application in many scenarios, even when applying to test-optional schools, which means many students will benefit in admissions if their test prep pays off. Rarely should a student assume they will move forward fully test-optional without even considering taking the SAT or ACT. Is it possible to do that? Sure. But you may be missing out on providing information to admissions offices that is still found useful and adds value to your application. Carefully consider your plan with your trusted advisers (e.g., college counselor, parents) to map out a standardized test plan that makes sense for you.

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