Pros and Cons of Test-Optional and Test-Flexible Admissions

For many college-bound students, taking the SAT or ACT test is one of the most critical steps of the college-admissions process. However, recently many colleges and universities have decided to make these tests optional for applicants.

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Why the Change?

When the University of Chicago announced it would adopt a test-optional admissions policy in 2018, it was one of the first elite universities in the nation to take such a bold stance. Since then, many colleges and universities have followed suit. They cite a lack of confidence in the ability of standardized test scores like the SAT and ACT to predict college success. Many also argue that test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies will increase enrollments for underrepresented students and improve campus diversity.

Inside Higher Ed conducted a poll of admissions leaders in 2018. The poll revealed that many college admissions leaders believe admissions testing discourages students from considering colleges where they could be admitted and thrive. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about “persistent gaps" in SAT and ACT scores by race and ethnicity. Others argue that there is a link between family income and standardized test scores, which has the unfortunate potential to reward parental wealth over student achievement.

Test-Optional vs. Test-Flexible Admissions

When a college or university adopts a test-optional admissions policy, students are not required to submit SAT/ACT scores during the application process. If you decide your test scores are too low, you can choose to rely on other parts of your application, including your essay or resume, to make your application stand out. What’s the main takeaway? You decide whether your SAT/ACT scores will play a role in the school’s admissions decision.

Test-flexible admissions allow students to submit a variety of standardized test scores. This can include SAT/ACT scores, but it can also include SAT Subject Tests, AP (Advanced Placement) tests, IB (International Baccalaureate) tests, or other school-administered placement tests. At some colleges, students can submit a writing sample, portfolio, or additional letters of recommendation.

The Benefits

Standardized test scores can’t adequately demonstrate the abilities of all students. You might be the type of student who simply doesn’t perform well in a standardized testing environment. In this case, your grades, extracurricular activities, and community involvement might better reflect your likelihood of succeeding in college.

You could also be a student who excels in a specific area—art, music, or science, for example. Test-optional or test-flexible admissions can be incredibly beneficial and allow you to demonstrate your talents in other ways.

The Disadvantages

Critics of test-optional or test-flexible admissions claim these types of policies are geared more toward the institution than the student. Institutions with test-optional policies can often attract (and reject) more applicants, which lowers their acceptance rates and makes them appear more selective.

A University of Georgia study found that schools receive 200 more applications on average after adopting test-optional policies. It also revealed that when going test optional, many schools see SAT scores rise by 26 points on average. Additionally, applicants who choose not to share their test results scored 100-150 points lower than those who decided to include their SAT/ACT scores on their college application.

Test-optional or test-flexible admissions might also put you at a disadvantage for merit-based scholarships, though some schools will consider you despite not submitting your SAT/ACT scores.

A Final Note

Test-optional and test-flexible admissions are not new concepts. In 1969, Bowdoin College was notably the first college to drop its testing requirement. However, test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies are rapidly gaining momentum. You will likely encounter a few (if not many) of these types of institutions during your college search.

There is one important question to ask yourself when applying to college without submitting your SAT/ACT scores: What other factors will help your application stand out? If you are an international or non-traditional student, you will also want to consider how including your SAT/ACT scores on you application might actually be more beneficial than not including them. The admissions office isn’t always familiar with certain high school programs of study, and in this case, submitting your SAT/ACT scores can put you at an advantage.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our focus is always on you. Our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. Our excellent team of tutors can help with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you would like more information, Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware at are available to answer questions and provide solutions. Please call us at 215-886-9188.

Posted in Test Preparation, College, ACT Prep, SAT, SAT Prep, ACT, College Life

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