Are Tests Really Optional Now?

Last year it was difficult to take the SAT or ACT.  Some students were cancelled out of test date after test date, and were completely shut out by the time college application deadlines came around.  Colleges responded, first in a trickle and then in a torrent, by making standardized tests optional.  Students rejoiced!  Maybe 2022 or 2023 graduates wouldn’t even have to worry about the tests?

Alas, that appears not to be the case.  College after college has stated that if a student’s test scores are in line with historical norms for that school, students should submit them, because it will greatly strengthen their case.  The issue college admissions people face is that high school grades are a pretty good predictor of college success, and the SAT/ACT are a pretty good predictor of college success, but the two combined are a great predictor of success.  For competitive colleges that are operating on the scale of thousands or tens of thousands of applications, they really have no alternative to standardized testing.

This year, in the midst of a pandemic, Duke’s acceptance rate went down 30%.  How, in this time, could they afford to be so choosy?  The answer makes a lot of sense when you think about it.  A large number of students looked at test optional policies, and said to themselves “I have good grades, I don’t have a great standardized test score, but why not give it a go?”  This was repeated at Standford, the Ivies, and most highly competitive colleges.  A lot of students basically threw up a prayer, and while some no doubt benefitted from this, admissions officers are not in the habit of allowing students to fluke their way in.

So what, then, should a student aspiring to a highly competitive college do (you ask a test prep company).  Why, score really high on standardized tests!  We are, of course, somewhat biased on this matter, but the evidence is clear.  Good test scores will continue to help students getting into better colleges and universities.

We’re watching closely some of the experiments being run, such as the University of California’s decision to remove the SAT and ACT requirement by 2025.  Part of the stated rationale is that the tests are “biased towards students with highly educated and wealthy parents”.  Although they would never say it, for most colleges this is a feature, not an issue with the tests.  They want smart kids who will pay them a lot of money to attend!  California schools are going to face a unique challenge as, for instance, Cal Berkeley has Asians as their largest race/ethnicity, largely due to the cultural importance placed on grades and test scores.  How they will fare under the new system remains to be seen.

For more traditional admissions systems, the path forward is clear:  get great grades with a challenging course load, have great test scores, and show interests outside of school.  While we can only help with one part of that, it turns out we can help a lot!  Talk to us about how your student can achieve their goals and score great on their test.