Catherine 3.0by Catherine Tierney

With fall in full swing, most juniors are beginning to prepare for the SAT, ACT and PSAT. At the same time, many colleges continue to tweak their testing policy to become “test optional” or “test flexible.” The list of test optional schools has grown to include George Washington University, Beloit, Denison and Brandeis. Here we will answer some frequently asked questions about test optional admissions and how it might impact a student’s testing plan.

Why would a school choose to go test optional?

There are two answers. The first is that many schools recognize the limitations of standardized tests when assessing student achievement. Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT aim to assess foundational skills necessary for success in college, but to a certain extent they also test how skilled a student is at taking the test. Eliminating testing is not completely altruistic; there is something in it for the schools, too. When a school becomes test optional, more students apply to the school because more students, especially poor test takers, feel they may have a chance of admission. However, when schools go test optional, they do not significantly increase the size of their incoming classes, thus the school appears more selective. Additionally, most test optional schools will still accept and consider scores if a student would like to submit them. Only students with strong scores will submit them, allowing test optional schools to report a higher average SAT or ACT score.

What does “test flexible” mean?

Test flexible schools typically require some standardized testing but are flexible with the requirements. They may, like Colorado College or NYU, accept a certain mix of AP or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT or ACT. Some schools waive the testing requirement for students with a certain grade point cutoff. Each school’s admissions website is the best place to get accurate information about the testing policy.

If I am applying to a test optional school, should I submit my scores?

If they will help you, yes. If your scores fall in or above the published 25-75th percentile range, it is a good idea to submit them.

Can I go completely test optional and avoid the SAT or ACT?

Ultimately, over 2,000 colleges and universities require standardized testing for admissions, including most public universities. Thus, most students are not able to completely avoid testing. Students determined to go completely test optional will have to plan far in advance, as their college list will be more limited.