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How Optional is Test-Optional?

Those who have been following me know how much I loathe standardized testing. I say the best thing that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic is colleges going test-optional. In my opinion, the ACT or SAT is just a test that tests how well you take standardized tests - it's NOT a gauge of intelligence by any means! That being said, standardized tests have wriggled their way back into many college admission scorecards during the application process. Sure, many colleges that have remained test optional say it won't work against you if you don't submit your scores, but c'mon, let's live in the reality of the moment. What's your excuse now? Test centers have reopened and the majority of schools host their own test at the school for their own students. Colleges know this, so it seems like you're hiding something if you don't submit. And, if you don't submit test scores, then your grades, the rigor of course load, and AP scores will have to "prove" and "support" that had you taken the ACT or SAT, you would have performed as expected given the other pieces of "evidence" in your file. But, if you are that "good", you shouldn't have any issue scoring decently anyway. So, what's the conflict?

A Chance to Set Things Right

The conflict resides in whether or not you DO have something to prove. If you had a poor start grade-wise in your high school career, but for whatever reason, the grades soared in Junior year because something clicked, your GPA won't reflect this newfound approach to your studies. It's hard to combat a low GPA in just one year. ACT or SAT to the rescue! This is an area where you can "prove" that the GPA shouldn't be as heavily weighed during your application review because you did very well on the test. This helps you fall to the side of being accepted when a decision based on GPA alone would have gone in the other direction.

Strong Test-Taker I am Not

"I'm not really a test taker" is what I hear often, and I get it. Trust me, you're preaching to the preacher, my friend! If your score TRULY does not reflect how you've performed grade-wise in school, then don't share them if it's a test-optional school. Don't place anything in your application that does not help your case! It's that simple. And just because you send scores to one school doesn't mean you have to send them to all of your schools. Do your research. Look up the college's latest admitted class and find the average range of test scores. If you don't fall within the test range but do fall into the GPA range, DO NOT submit your test scores. But, if you do, even if you're at the lower end, then still go ahead and share the information because you aren't bringing down their average if accepted. Colleges don't like admitting students where their average stats go down!


Standardized testing is not going away, but it is changing. For instance, the LAST paper version of the SAT is scheduled to be administered on December 2, 2023. You can still register for the test by November 21, but you'll have to pay a late registration fee. For 2024, SAT goes digital, and this is brand new ground for College Board. We'll all have to see how these digital test scores, when compared to previous years, fares. If you want more advice on avoiding rookie mistakes when signing up for the ACT or SAT, PLEASE read this previous blog post to help you out.

Like taxes and death, standardized testing in a post-COVID world is hard to excuse away, especially given the competitiveness of today's applicants.

Good luck and don't forget to subscribe.

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