In a world of test-optional admissions, should I take the SAT/ACT?

June 28, 2021

In short, yes.

In 2020, a large number of colleges and universities adopted test-optional admission policies. Most did so in empathetic response to the difficulty high school students faced as they tried to take the SAT or ACT during the early months of the pandemic.

We are not out of the “COVID woods” yet, and close to 65% of colleges have extended their test optional policies for the Class of 2022.

For the Class of 2023 it is difficult to predict what the test-optional landscape will look like. We anticipate that a number of colleges that implemented test-optional policies during the pandemic will retain them, however some schools may return to requiring standardized test scores.

Everything to gain, nothing to lose

What does this mean for our future college applicants?  Since test-optional does not mean test-blind, we recommend that most, if not all, juniors should keep standardized tests on their radar and plan to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their applications.

With a test score in hand, students have everything to win and nothing to lose. If some schools on your list require scores, you’ll be ready to submit those scores. If others are test-optional, you’ll then have the choice to submit if you feel those scores will represent you well. Dismissing standardized tests out of hand now could present students with a missed opportunity to showcase their academic abilities. Most of our students end up with strong scores that represent them well.

Additionally, an SAT or ACT score can provide data that reinforces a student’s GPA and academic ability, showing that the student can manage the academic rigors of the institution. Throughout this pandemic, student learning – through nobody’s fault – has been hampered. Grade inflation has been trending upward for years, and COVID has arguably accelerated that trend.

Class of 2023

We recommend that high school juniors take a practice SAT and ACT in the summer, prior to the start of the school year. Use these practice test scores and your test-taking experience to decide between the SAT-ACT, then create a test plan with target test dates and a study schedule. As a free service to families, Summit provides a consultation following your practice tests to discuss score results and offer guidance on your test plan.

Both the SAT and ACT are curriculum-based tests and a student’s performance correlates with age, maturity, and time spent in school. Students generally reach their peak score in spring of junior year or early fall of senior year.

Test prep planning is a highly individualized process and no two plans are exactly alike. Read this article for some general guidelines for students who will want to consider testing sooner, rather than later in the school year.

Frequently Asked Questions related to test-optional admissions

What is the difference between a test-blind and a test-optional admission policy?”

Test-blind means that test scores are NOT considered at all in the admissions process. Not many schools are test-blind.

Test-optional means you have the option to send scores or not to send scores. If you send scores, they will be seen and considered by admissions officers. Scores that are in the higher end of the published SAT and ACT ranges for that school will be seen favorably by the admissions team.

Historically, well over 50% of applicants to test-optional schools submit test scores, with more selective schools having percentages of 60-80% or higher. Given the increase in applications, these percentages might dip, but there will still be high percentages of students submitting scores.

How do I know whether or not I should submit scores to a school with a test-optional admission policy?

Generally speaking, if your scores put you in the upper 50% of a school’s SAT or ACT range, you should send them. Consult with your counselor for guidance as to whether or not it makes sense to send scores to a particular college.

I am a recruited athlete. How should I think about test scores?

Even though a school might be test-optional, coaches might still need an SAT or ACT score to prove to their admission teams that they are recruiting athletes who meet a certain academic threshold. We encourage you to check with the coaches/colleges that are recruiting you.

I’m hoping to get merit aid. Should I submit test scores?

Merit aid scholarships, which are generally non-need-based financial aid scholarships, often factor in grades and test scores in determining the amount of those awards. Students with strong test scores are in a better position to maximize merit aid than students with no scores or weaker scores. For context, schools use merit aid scholarships as a recruitment tool to entice strong students to apply and ultimately enroll in their institutions. By factoring in standardized tests, the colleges encourage students with strong test scores to enroll, thereby raising the academic profile and prestige of that institution through their published SAT and ACT scores. Always reach out directly to the institution to inquire whether or not test scores are factored into merit aid scholarships.

When it comes to standardized testing, Summit has always counseled families to take a sane and sensible approach and, perhaps that guidance is more important now than ever before. I encourage you to contact us if you have any questions about taking the SAT or ACT in a college admissions world that is mostly test-optional.


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