Test Optional Should My Teen Bother with ACT or SAT?

act sat test optional Oct 09, 2020


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I recently answered this question for a popular news outlet, 'What’s different in college admissions now, then just last year or many years ago?' On the same day, a client asked, "With all of the colleges going 'test-optional' should my teen bother taking the ACT or SAT?"

There are a lot of weird things going on in the age of COVID and those weird things do have an impact on college admissions.

I want to talk specifically about taking the ACT and SAT exams. These are the high stakes exams that have been in place for decades!

Parents are under the mistaken impression that all colleges and universities have gone ‘test-optional’.

But what IS test-optional and why should you care?

Test optional in college admissions is an option the student has to submit or not submit their ACT and SAT scores for college admissions decisions. What they are saying is that if the student chooses to not submit their test scores, the college will use the rest of the application in deciding whether or not to accept that student for college admissions.

Pre-COVID, only 10% of the more than 4000 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S were test-optional. Now, with the testing difficulties during early COVID, and with cancellations due to fear, local ordinances, and not enough testing proctors, now about 40% are test-optional for a specific application year.

But you need to understand WHY some college admissions are test-optional. Originally it was never about you. With online testing difficulties, It's only partially about you.

Parents should know that One of the criteria that contribute to college rankings is the average incoming freshmen ACT and SAT test score. College rankings are pretty much a popularity contest. There are no independent authority ranking colleges on educational quality and student outcomes. Let me repeat that. There is no independent authority ranking colleges on educational quality and student outcomes.

But parents who don’t know that put value in the US News college rankings, so colleges make changes like this to affect their ranking. What does being a test-optional college, do for their rankings? Think about it. The only students not submitting their test scores are those with average or below-average scores. A college can’t report what they don’t receive. With lower scores not being reported, this significantly increases their average incoming freshmen test score.

Sure, there are some students who don’t test well but have a great GPA, and let’s face it, during early COVID there were a lot of problems with online testing.

Keep in mind, at most colleges test-optional is only for admissions. Most still require scores for merit-based scholarships. So if you’re looking for scholarship money, and that’s the bottom line for this program, take the exams. There will be more opportunities to take the exams this year than ever before to try to make up for the early problems.

Another assumption, or rumor, going around is that some schools are going to no longer accept ACT and SAT scores, essentially, test blind, for admissions in the next 5 years or so. First let me explain, this is not set in stone. It is a discussion. And although there was one lawsuit surrounding these exams, I don’t believe for a minute it will remain that way. Second, and more importantly, the discussion is to create their own exam for those schools. What this means to your teen is that if your teen plans to apply to both UC schools and other schools they will have to take both the UC exam and the ACT or SAT. This will increase the cost and preparation for these students.

The ACT and SAT are not going anywhere. Be prepared. Practice test-taking strategies.  Study. And take the exams early and often.

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