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Recently, it is not just overwhelmed high-school juniors asking what the point of standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT is. An increasing number of colleges are making the major standardized tests optional for admissions. Instead of requiring test scores to complete college applications, colleges are changing their admissions criteria to assess students without SAT or ACT scores.

Here’s what soon-to-be college applicants should know about test-optional admissions policies:

  • Students who do not test well can take advantage of the option to apply without submitting test scores.
  • Colleges will not assume the students who do not submit test scores at test-optional schools have done poorly on their standardized tests.
  • Different colleges have different test-optional policies. For instance, some schools may require students to submit scores if they do not meet certain GPA or class rank requirements. Other schools may require other test scores—such as AP tests—instead of SAT or ACT scores. Still others may require writing samples instead of test scores. Check out college websites for the most current requirements.
  • Even at test-optional schools where scores are not a factor in deciding admission, scholarships or other financial aid may take test scores into account.
  • Students who score higher than the median scores at test-optional scores may want to submit their scores anyway.
  • Most students will still have to take the SAT or ACT in addition to meeting other requirements if they do not apply exclusively to test optional schools.
  • Students shouldn’t apply to schools on the basis of test requirements (or lack thereof) alone, but rather emphasize how well a school fits their needs and capabilities. That said, the requirements of colleges can help reveal how schools assess students in admission decisions and, by extension, what they value in their students.
  • Test-optional schools are not necessarily less competitive than schools that do require students to submit their test scores.
  • The increasing movement to make test scores optional or eliminate them from admissions decisions entirely reflects concern about the extent to which test scores accurately reflect/predict how well students will do in college. Studies have shown, for instance, that standardized tests are highly coachable and that students whose family income is higher tend to do better on the SAT and ACT than do poorer students. In addition, some studies have found that these tests privilege males and white students over females and students of color.
  • Colleges that have test-optional admissions have been satisfied with the academic quality of their students. They believe that they encourage more students to apply and achieve greater student diversity in their student bodies with applications that do not require tests. They feel that low test scores might discourage otherwise qualified students from applying and want to encourage more students to apply.

For a list of test optional colleges, see http://fairtest.org/university/optional

For more on the studies referenced above, see http://fairtest.org/test-scores-do-not-equal-merit-executive-summary

Bottom line:

Regardless of whether students submit ACT or SAT test scores with their applications, colleges are increasingly aware of the limitations of standardized testing as a predictor of college success and academic ability. Since that is the case, schools know to judge test scores accordingly. That means that both test-optional and test-required schools assess applicants in the context of all their materials (grades, recommendations, extracurriculars, essays, etc); tests are not the primary determining factor in admissions decisions.