Test-Optional: Recent Changes and How Testing Still Matters

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic changes in our lives. Students, in particular, have had to make major adjustments, including attending virtual school and missing milestone events. College admissions policies are changing as well. As a result of exam cancelations and the possibility of further disruptions to future test administrations, many colleges are temporarily waiving SAT/ACT requirements. In order to plan for the future, find out what experts are saying about new testing policies and get the latest information on which colleges and universities are either temporarily test-optional or are adopting test-optional requirements for a longer trial basis.

What are the Changes?

Since most high schools are closed, both the College Board, which administers the SAT, and the ACT cancelled test dates in March, April, May, and June. Additional test dates, including the June 13 administration of the ACT, may also be cancelled or limited. As a result, according to CNN, a record number of colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies: you do not have to submit your scores if you don’t want to or don’t have any scores to submit.

Currently, about 51 colleges have waived their SAT/ACT requirements for high school juniors applying in the fall, including the entire University of California and California State University systems. Even Ivy League schools, such as Cornell University, are making the change. For more information, review the table below, which features up-to-date information about standardized testing policies.

Test Optional Policies

The New York Times reported that the College Board supports colleges temporarily waiving SAT score requirements due to test cancellations and limited access to testing: “[Colleges] are rightfully emphasizing flexibility for the admissions process for next year.” The ACT is similarly supportive of temporary test-optional policies, but also emphasized to The New York Times that “despite the immediate effects of COVID-19 on admissions, it is clear that ACT scores add meaningful insight and significant value above and beyond other factors used in the college admission process.”

Who is affected by the changes?

Students in the class of 2021 are among those who will be able to decide whether or not to submit test scores. However, there were already quite a few test-optional colleges and universities prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so there is a possibility that some temporary changes may eventually lead to permanent policies.

Stacey Cunitz, founder and director of Blue Moon Educational Consulting, summed up the situation: “Some schools have signaled that this new test-optional policy is for one year only and they will be back to business as usual for the class of 2022. Many more schools have adopted 2 or 3-year pilot test-optional programs. In the past, as far as I know, when schools have done that, the change has always become permanent.”

So, although the COVID-19 crisis should eventually end, colleges’ and universities’ test-optional policies may not.

What to Expect in the Future

Whether temporary or permanent, changes to admissions policies can have their benefits and drawbacks. It can be nerve-wracking learning about and adjusting to new requirements. Yet, with the changes come new, and perhaps more appealing, ways to present yourself to prospective schools.

It is important to understand that “test-optional” is not the same as “test blind.” Test-optional schools, while not requiring SAT or ACT scores, may still consider them in their admissions decision. Therefore, students need to determine if it’s in their best interest to provide scores. There are only a handful of test blind colleges, in which test scores will not be considered even if they are submitted by a student.

Cunitz indicates that traditional aspects of a college application will remain important even as other components may gain significance. For example, while transcripts “will always be Number 1,” and “extracurriculars, recommendations, [and] the essay” will remain similarly crucial, especially to more selective colleges, additional essays and writing supplements could become more common as colleges seek alternative ways to assess a student’s eligibility. Meanwhile, the SAT and ACT can still be worth including for applicants for whom a test score could bolster their chances of acceptance or for those who could use such scores to balance a less than stellar transcript.

Final Thoughts

The SAT and ACT have been a staple of the college admissions process, and they have both been through their fair share of changes. Now, how those tests are factored into the admissions process has also changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting a range of reactions from testing officials, schools, and students. On the one hand, some welcome the change and hope to see it become permanent. On the other hand, some still see the value in the tests. Ultimately, the decision to submit SAT/ACT scores is up to students. If you're a student who can't submit scores due to cancellations, or a student who scored well and can choose to submit scores, what is important now is to make a decision about what is in your best interest and to remain informed about any policy updates that could affect you.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware can be reached at 215-886-9188.

Posted in Test Preparation, ACT Prep, SAT, Test Prep, ACT, Remote Tutoring

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