The Test Optional Dilemma Continues

Are the SAT and ACT Still worth worrying about? The short answer is likely "yes."

The pandemic's ripple effects continue to send college admissions offices scrambling. They have long relied on test scores as one of the key variables they use to evaluate candidates, yet according to FairTest, seventy-six percent of bachelor's-degree-granting institutions have now adopted some blend of a test-optional or test-blind policy. The ramifications have been – unsurprisingly – both positive and negative.

On the positive side, the playing field has been leveled. Numerous studies have revealed a clear correlation between affluence and test scores. In a piece written in the spring of 2021 by Jeffrey Selingo entitled the Future of Admissions: What changes from this year will stick?, he aptly points out that "for all the focus on standardized testing now, the test itself is just a symptom, not a cause, of deep inequities." Many students – who might have opted to not even apply to given institutions due to their scores – have been emboldened to take a chance and been admitted to institutions that seemed unattainable in a test-mandatory environment.

On the negative side, for this same reason, admissions offices are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications making the admissions landscape at selective institutions* highly unpredictable based on data from the previous years. The volume of applications at these colleges is up, on average, 25% since 2019. For example, Northeastern University received over 75,000 applications for the class of 2026, a 15% increase in just one year. 

Most parents and students I speak to loathe standardized testing. But feelings aside, most also have questions about how to navigate this new landscape. If test-optional is truly an option, the big question is: "Should we throw in the towel completely on prepping and sitting for the tests?" 

In most cases, the bottom line is NO. You shouldn't throw in the towel. Your student should still pay attention to TESTING and TEST PREP. Submitting a competitive standardized test score makes an application stronger. 

As Mike Bergin, of the podcast, Tests and The Rest, pointed out in an article published in April 2020, “applicants without test scores are often admitted at lower rates than their score-reporting peers.” Tests and the Rest recently dropped an excellent interview with education writer and author, Natalie Wexler, and if you're inclined to take a deeper dive to understand more about what's behind test scores, below are five topics addressed in Episode #164Don't Shoot the Messenger: What Testing Tells Us.

  1. Do college admissions tests merely reflect cultural or racial bias?
  2. Do wealthier families have an unfair advantage because they can afford expensive test prep?
  3. How does the elementary school curriculum relate to the inequities we see in high school?
  4. What can schools do to help make college admissions and standardized testing more equitable?
  5. What is the role of writing instruction in preventing and compensating for educational inequity?

Not so interested in the deep dive, but need personalized advice on how to navigate the shifting test-optional landscape? We can help. And, if your student needs test prep, our award-winning tutor consistently gets rave reviews from our families. 

Signature - JPM and EA Team

* Colleges and universities that admit less than 50% of applicants are considered selective. Keep in mind that while an institution's overall admissions rate may be greater than 50%, the most popular, competitive programs such as Business, Computer Science, Engineering, and Nursing will have much lower admissions rates. 


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