To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question!

By Lea on March 22, 2021 0 Comments

There has never been more change and uncertainty in the college admissions world than there is today.

At this juncture, the most pressing question facing students in 11th grade is “To test or not to test?” 

For several years there has been a slow-growing test-optional movement. has advocated for more equity and access in higher education and is keeping track of colleges declaring test-optional, test flexible, and test blind policies. The movement gained visibility and traction in 2018 when the University of Chicago declared itself a test-optional institution, one of the first highly selective colleges to do so. The coronavirus has upended higher education in such dramatic ways that many predict the use of the SAT and ACT in college admissions will never return to pre-pandemic levels.

The truth is we remain in a period of continued uncertainty about the future of standardized testing in college admissions.

Most students who test will do so in the second half of their junior year. ACT registration for February, 2023 is now open. SAT registration for 2023 dates is also open now for 2023.

What does test-optional really mean?

In essence, most colleges that are test-optional have adopted a testing policy that is generally communicated to students in this way:

We understand that access to testing has been difficult, and you will not be disadvantaged by not submitting scores. We have plenty of other information in your application to assess your potential for success at our institution. If you were able to test and think your scores accurately represent your ability, feel free to submit them. If you feel they’re not, don’t.

Read: A strong test taker can benefit from having a score, but a student without a test score will be evaluated on other factors.

The good news is that for the most part students choose whether or not to pursue testing. A significant number of colleges & universities will not require test scores (although they might still recommend them when possible). As a result, whether a student takes the test and/or decides to submit a score is a very individual decision. It is important for students to know those schools that are test friendly — meaning those who like scores. And, increasingly, colleges in the southern states and other anomalies (such as Georgetown) are going back to required testing.

Don’t just choose to not test before you have taken a practice SAT or ACT test. Spend some time preparing to see what it would take for you to do well.

To start to answer the “to test or not to test” question, each student can consider these factors:

  1. Timely access to a testing site. 
    • As California communities see the spread of COVID reducing and the increasing availability of vaccines, expect more test centers to open.
  2. Selectivity of the schools of interest, and specialized programs of interest.
  3. Strength of practice test scores and potential for hitting scores above the 50% mark for colleges on their list. 
    • All students should take the PSAT or complete a practice test of the SAT or ACT before deciding if they will move forward with test prep.
    • A strong test taker who is up for the challenge of testing can prepare for and take the tests. This can possibly boost a student’s admission to selective schools because it is seen as another indicator of achievement.
  4. Trade-off of time and energy spent on test prep and testing (as well as possible undue stress) versus focusing on doing well in their schoolwork and using out-of-school time for other valuable pursuits. 

Suppose a student chooses not to submit scores. In that case, colleges with test optional policies will consider with increased scrutiny her/his/their other application materials, looking for evidence of excellent academic preparation, including:

  • GPA and course rigor
    • Rigor is a factor of a student taking increasingly challenging courses. The UC’s often measure this by semesters of honors/AP/IB/college courses taken.
  • Other testing (i.e., AP/IB scores)
  • Commitment to pursuing other learning experiences (i.e., community college, summer programs, internships, passion projects)
  • Essays
  • Counselor and teacher recommendations

When students pursue their high school studies with rigor and vigor and spend out-of-school time digging into their interests and passions and making a difference in their community, they prepare themselves for college success.  Performance on a test can serve as one way to demonstrate a student’s academic scholarship, but it is not the only way.

At this point, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to testing. As I meet with each of my students, we carefully consider their personal situation and use the factors above to figure out what makes the best decision for them.

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