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Standardized Testing is Alive and Well...Sort Of

After so many cancellations of test dates, along with announcements by colleges that they are going test optional because of the Covid situation, it’s tempting to think that testing is no more. It’s true that many more schools are keeping their test optional policies, whether for another year or permanently. And some have gone test blind. But that’s not the whole story.

Like every question we encounter in the world of college admissions, the answer to whether or not testing is still a factor in college admissions, the answer is, “it depends.”

Before we get into the pros and cons of “test optional policies” keep in mind that there are still schools that require test scores. Until you are certain that you will not be applying to such a school, plan to test.

Moving on to the test optional situation, here are some things to consider. First of all, the most significant piece of information you’ll supply to college admissions is your transcript. Your GPA along with the rigor of your course work will count the most. Still, colleges are aware of the fact that there’s a national trend toward high school grade inflation. So, having another factor to consider, like a test score, could help solidify a college’s admission decision. And, test scores, for all of their faults, have one thing going for them – the distribution of scores across the population has remained stable – unlike the grade inflation we see nationally.

Here’s another way to think about it. Most colleges say that they are reviewing applicants on a holistic basis. That means every item you present on your application will be considered. So, if you send good test scores, they will be considered along with everything else --

grades, activities, work experience, etc.

Here’s the but… (there’s always a but, right?) If you and another student seem relatively equal in all aspects except that the other student sent in a 1400 on the SAT and you didn’t send a score – it means that student has one more positive piece of information taken into consideration. Who gets in? We don’t know, but we could take an educated guess.

Like everything we suggest to our students – an activity, an AP class, a summer program – what we are trying to do is help that student create more options. And test scores, right now, fall into that category.

For students who don’t test well, it’s completely reasonable not to test. A test score is a measure of how well you take that particular test on that particular day. Many factors could have an impact on your score that have nothing to do with your academic ability.

In the end, this will be a highly personal decision.

One more thing to be aware of. Many colleges that announce they are test optional may ask for another piece of information to throw into the holistic stew that’s you. Maybe another essay? Maybe a school essay or report that shows your capabilities?

In short, test optional is not a free pass. It’s an option. So, if you are not yet a senior, you have some time to figure this out. Take a sample test. Or simply sign up and take an actual test. See what happens. And then make the decision that works for you.


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