To Test or Not to Test

Thoughts on Whether Taking Standardized Tests (SAT/ACT) Still Makes Sense for College-Bound High School Students

            In a word: maybe.

            So, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the age-old tradition of taking standardized tests like the SAT and ACT on its head. What was once a mandatory and critical part of the college application process became either optional or not required at all.

            Today, as we emerge from the pandemic and regain a bit of normalcy in our lives, the dust has settled on the issue of standardized testing, and universities have clarified their requirements going forward. Schools now either require students to submit test scores, give them the option to submit them or not (“test-optional”), or do not require them to submit test scores at all (“test-blind”). These options have left students and their parents/family members wondering if it makes sense for them to invest the time (and, sometimes, financial resources) to prepare for either the SAT or ACT, or both. Again, my answer is a firm “maybe.” 

            Suppose you have done your research and are 100% confident that you will only be applying to “test-blind” universities. In that case, there is no need for you to invest the time and energy into attaining a strong standardized test score. For example, I work with many California students committed to applying solely to California public institutions – the University of California system (the UCs) and the Cal State University system (CSUs). These two public university systems are test-blind, so they will not even take a single peep at an applicant’s test scores in the admission process. In my time as an independent college consultant, however, this is the exception, not the rule. The majority of students apply to a variety of schools – some “test required,” some “test-optional,” and some “test-blind.”  So, these students will need to prep for and do their best on the SAT or ACT Exam in order to cover all the bases. 

            Now, let’s get a little more specific and talk about this “test-optional” business and what it really means for students. Universities with a “test-optional” testing policy often say that, on the one hand, submitting standardized tests can help you in the admissions process, but on the other hand, not submitting them cannot harm you. Maybe this is just me, but… Huh? From my perspective, I see the submission of standardized test scores as an opportunity to strengthen your application and stand out from the pack. For instance, Boston College, a test-optional institution, states on its website: “At Boston College, standardized testing provides meaningful context as we evaluate candidates with varying degrees of curricular rigor across more than 8,000 high schools from which we receive applications. Our research has routinely demonstrated that the inclusion of standardized testing as part of our holistic review provides the greatest predictive value toward ensuring student success.” So, if your scores are strong and you feel that they highlight your academic prowess, then, by all means, submit them. A strong score can only help, so investing the time, effort, and resources to prepare for and take the test would certainly be worth it. 

            At the end of the day, the decision as to whether a student should test or not test takes some careful consideration and serious weighing of options. So, be sure to do your homework – start thinking about the colleges that might be the best fit for you and that you would genuinely want to apply to, research their testing policy, and if they are either “test required” or “test-optional,” take the necessary steps to put yourself in the most advantageous position possible to excel in the college admission process.

            Best of luck on your journey!

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