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  • Writer's pictureJulie Simon

When is Standardized Testing Optional

How standardized testing is used in the admissions process is more confusing than ever–even for people like me, whose job is to stay on top of trends like this.

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, many colleges implemented test-optional or test-free policies because so many students were unable to take the SAT or ACT due to cancellations. What is the difference between the two?

Test-free means the college does not consider standardized test scores in the application review process for any student. The University of California and California State University systems have a test-free review process.

Under a test-optional policy, students have the option of submitting an ACT or SAT exam. If a student chooses not to submit scores, the application will be considered complete and reviewed without them.

When is standardized testing actually optional?

At some colleges, it never is. The public universities in Florida still required standardized test scores during and post-pandemic. At schools like Florida State, the University of Florida, and others, students’ applications are not complete without a standardized test score. The public universities in Georgia require them as well.

For the 2022-23 application, MIT reinstated their standardized testing requirement stating, “The office’s research had shown that the university cannot reliably predict students will do well at MIT unless we consider standardized test results alongside grades, coursework, and other factors.”

Recently, Purdue University followed suit, indicating test scores will be reinstated for the 2023-24 admissions cycle, also noting “tests allow the university to ensure the optimal chance of success for admitted students.” Last year, 80% of the students admitted at Purdue submitted standardized test scores.

Not all colleges are transparent about the role of standardized test scores in the admissions process, but recent data indicates that at many test-optional selective universities, submitting standardized test scores is an advantage. The following table was created by Applerouth and education writer Jeff Selingo:

How to approach standardized testing

Unless extenuating circumstances exist, I generally advise students to prepare for standardized testing. With the lack of transparent information about how test scores are used in the application review system, the data above indicates that at many selective colleges, having test scores in the college’s competitive range is an advantage.

If you’re unsure whether to take an exam or submit test scores, consult your educational consultant or school counselor. They should have access to data to help you with your decision. Also, check the policies for the colleges of interest to you. FairTest maintains the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of test-optional and test-free colleges.

And remember, there are nearly 3000 four-year colleges and universities where you can have a successful college experience. Many would love to enroll you–with or without test scores.

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