Update! Test Optional: Policies and Planning for 2023

Last updated Jan 6, 2023 

Whether it’s ice cream flavors or shows to binge on streaming services, everyone loves having choices. Okay, maybe it’s not that simple, especially when it comes to one of the most important parts of a person’s life: college admissions. Although some colleges and universities were adopting test optional policies prior to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many more schools to experiment with offering students the choice to submit their SAT or ACT scores. Nearly three years later, we’re taking a closer look at what college admissions look like today, including an overview of current testing policies, some advice about how to choose the best testing options for you, and ultimately how to make a plan to prepare for a test.

Test Policies Today

Colleges and universities typically release their testing policies in the late spring or early summer, leaving juniors limited time to prepare for or take any tests during the recommended testing window between the winter of their junior year and the summer before their senior year. So what do we know for sure? Although a few colleges and universities are rolling back their test optional policies and will now require test scores (e.g. MIT, Georgetown, public universities in Georgia and Florida, and the service academies), most schools are committed to their test optional policies for at least another year or two. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that test optional isn’t the only policy related to standardized tests to consider. Some schools, such as the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, are test blind. Test blind schools will not consider test scores if submitted along with a student’s application. Other schools like New York University (NYU) have text flexible policies, which means they are open to considering scores from a variety of tests, including the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate exams. With so many choices, how do you pick the option that works best for you?

Advice for the Indecisive

Most students would probably jump at the chance to avoid taking another test, especially if the score could affect their futures. But just because most schools are test optional does that mean you shouldn’t take the SAT or ACT? It depends. Let’s look at some of the reasons why you might want to take a test:

  • You’re actually a pretty good test-taker, so the chances are high that you could earn a score that would put you in the top 25th percentile for a school on your college list.
  • Without a test score, other parts of your application become more important. A relatively good test score could be better than letting your less than impressive GPA or lackluster list of extracurriculars do the heavy lifting. 
  • Students who opt out of submitting test scores may find they have to provide additional materials in their place (e.g. more recommendation letters, research projects, writing samples or other coursework samples). 
  • Typically test scores are used to determine your eligibility for merit-based scholarships.
  • Some test optional colleges may still require scores for out-of-state or international admissions.
  • Test scores might be required to determine course placement or admission into honors programs.
  • It’s possible that a school might be test-optional, but the major to which you are applying is not (e.g. engineering).
  • You are a student athlete. 

Pretty convincing, right? For most students it will be, but there are some students for whom opting not to take a test or choosing not to submit test scores could be the better choice. A student who was sick on her test day or had to deal with a family crisis may not want to submit a test score, for example. If you’re a straight A student who won a national robotics competition and plays cello for your county orchestra, but your disappointing SAT score stands out for all the wrong reasons, then choosing not to submit a score could be the best option for you. 

Make a Plan and Stick to It

The expansion of test optional admissions has understandably led to fewer lower scoring students submitting scores. That means high-scoring students are submitting scores and ultimately reshaping admissions statistics: the scores students need to reach the 25th or even 50th percentile keeps increasing. So if you need to take a test and submit scores along with your application, or if you want to figure out if you should, you’ll need a plan. 

  • Take a diagnostic test: To make an informed decision, you’ll need to take a practice ACT and SAT to see where you stand.
  • Make a choice: Decide whether to take a test, and once you have, decide which test to take by comparing your SAT and ACT diagnostic scores.
  • Make a plan: If you’ve decided to take a test, pick your test dates, register, and plan out how you’re going to study. Learn more about the ideal test prep timeline here.
  • Prepare: Test takers should give themselves about three months to study, and non-test takers should use their time to write a stellar essay or participate in an impressive activity.
  • Submit: Once you’ve taken your tests, choose your best scores and what schools to send them to, and submit them. Or, if you didn’t take a test, submit your awesome application.

How A+ Can Help

Test optional admissions may not be going away any time soon, but that doesn’t mean standardized tests are a thing of the past. Test scores are still required for many majors, sports, scholarships, and and greater competition for spots at college universities means a good SAT or ACT score is more important than ever. With so many factors to consider and choices to make—from whether to take a test to what test to take and how to prepare for it—it’s okay to get some help. At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we offer free proctored practice exams with detailed score reports that give you all the information you need to choose between the SAT or ACT. You’ll also learn more about services A+ provides, and if you opt to sign up for one of our test prep programs, your score report will serve as a baseline to create score goals and a test prep plan. We look forward to being a partner on your test prep journey!

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 Director, Joelle Faucette, can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at office@aplustutoring.com.


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