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In recent years, much attention has been directed at the role of standardized tests in college admissions. Criticisms of the ACT and SAT are subject to debate, but the conversation, coupled with the flexibility required in the face of Covid-19 disruptions, has led colleges and universities to adjust their admissions policies. Most schools responded to pandemic-related testing issues by going “test optional,” allowing applicants to decide whether to submit an ACT or SAT score. A smaller contingent decided to no longer consider test scores, even if submitted.

In this environment, you may be wondering if you should bother with standardized testing. We always take into consideration the best interest of our students, and will advise students whose scores don’t demonstrate their strengths to pursue a test-optional admissions strategy. But for many students, the answer to whether they should take the ACT or SAT remains, “Yes.” Here’s why: 

 A strong score bolsters your application
Same as it ever was. For the vast majority of schools, a good score can be a boon to your application, setting you apart from other, similar applicants. As schools continue to become more competitive – often as a consequence of test-optional policies that have led to increases in applications – any small edge is crucial.

Some colleges require tests, or may in the future
A number of schools have returned to requiring standardized test scores. A partial list: MIT, Purdue, Georgetown, Tennessee, all Georgia schools, all Florida schools, and Military Academies. Others have confirmed their test optional status only through 2024, meaning that the class of 2025 and beyond cannot necessarily rely on schools remaining test optional going forward.

Colleges’ own data show a testing advantage
Compass Education Group has analyzed recent admissions rates based on whether students submitted test scores. While noting the difficulty in separating cause from correlation, they have found higher admit rates at selective schools for students who submitted scores compared with students who did not.

A “good” score is context-dependent
What constitutes a “good” score may vary not only by the college you’re applying to, but also by the high school you’re applying from. It is a common practice across education to use “local norms” to assess student ability and performance, comparing students with other students in their own school, as opposed to every student in every school nationwide. Colleges have noted that they will consider these local factors in their admissions decisions. Practically, this means that even if your score does not appear competitive according to a college’s metrics (average score and range), it still might be considered strong if it outpaces typical scores for students in your school.

Majors, programs, or scholarships might require test scores
A university might be test optional for purposes of general admission, but test scores may be required or beneficial for certain programs, majors, schools, or scholarships. Some examples:

  • Indiana University is test optional for its incoming class of freshmen, but its business school requires an SAT or ACT score (or a separate process to try to apply without one).
  • At Arizona State’s business school, a strong standardized test score can offset a comparatively low GPA.
  • Some schools, like the University of Alabama and University of Missouri, consider standardized test scores in their scholarship decisions.

Testing gives you options and flexibility
Simply put, taking the ACT or SAT gives you more flexibility. If you do well, great! You can submit your strong score to set yourself apart from other applicants and keep your options open for certain schools, programs, and scholarships. If you don’t do as well as you may have hoped, you can still apply to many schools without submitting a score, which is where you would’ve been had you not tested at all. For the reasons we’ve described here, we believe most students can benefit from preparing for and taking the ACT or SAT. Get in touch with us if you have any questions!


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