Tag Archives: test-optional

Life in the college admissions space made so much sense before the pandemic. Everyone shared a general understanding of what schools valued and how applicants could set themselves apart and signal readiness and fit to the institutions of their choice. Once COVID hit, every bedrock truth about teaching and learning seemed to come into question as many educators and pundits alike adopted a stance that tests didn’t actually tell all that much. Things have changed since those first scary months when schools shut down. The counterargument that test scores carry validity and help rather than hinder equitable outcomes has gained credence. More and more colleges have followed internal and external research to tip towards test-preferred policies, but the public still seems uncertain about whether submitting test scores makes sense or is even necessary. With hope, David Leonhardt’s newest higher ed piece in the New York Times will add some clarity…

Read more

What are the SAT and ACT, why do they matter, and what can and should teens and their families do about them during this dynamic moment in college admissions history? The admissions landscape has shifted dramatically over the last five years, so make sure you stay on top of the newest developments: — Why do the SAT & ACT still matter in the test optional era? — Does it make sense to take the SAT or ACT if a student has a strong GPA? — What does test optional really mean? — When is the best time to take the SAT or ACT? — What is the best preparation for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT? — When will the SAT be moving to a digital adaptive test?

Over nearly thirty years as an educator and much longer than that as someone who had to take tests that mattered, one truth about tests has always been evident: entrance exams to academic institutions have too often been seen as obstacles rather than opportunities. This sentiment continues to surprise me in a society where we value both hard work and winning. After all, admissions tests are, by nature of scarce access to institutions, competitions. What Americans don’t like competitions?! That said, I’ve always excelled at tests, so my opinion may be considered biased. I’m far from the only advocation for good entrance exams, though. I found the unattributed quote below in 2021 and have held it back while searching for authorship. Even without knowing what teenager wrote these words, the message tells us a lot about both the messenger and their fundamental understanding of how the opportunity offered by entrance…

Read more

While nothing in the 21st century college application process approaches conventional levels of transparency, the rise of test optional admissions has added a whole new level of ambiguity and opacity to an already stressful process. Nothing has changed, of course, when applying to colleges that are open-admit or select the majority of applicants. The real drama occurs at the selective and highly selective schools. Not only is a smaller percentage of applicants than ever selected at some of these schools–lower than 4% at certain institutions–but the blurring of qualifications has added entirely new levels of confusion, even for experts. Colleges universally adopted test optional admissions policies during the pandemic, in part because a handful of national SAT and ACT test dates and a flood of local test center administrations were cancelled. Test optional admissions also served to lower anxiety during a time when both applicants and the schools themselves were…

Read more

If you’re wondering what factors matter in selective college admissions, I’m happy to summarize the list in a few words: ALL OF THEM. When you are applying to schools that accept 10% or less of applicants, nothing is really optional from test scores to supplemental essays. The good news is that not every factor in admissions carries equal weight. A few years back, we shared what really matters in college admissions, as assessed by the NACAC 2018 State of College Admissions report. Much has changed since then, but perhaps not as much as one would think. After all, the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) recently released the results of a 2020 nationwide survey of IECA member independent educational consultants that shared major similarities with the NACAC report. What matters? Grades still reign supreme, both qualitatively (honors, AP, IB) and quantitatively (the higher the better) to admissions officers. SAT and ACT…

Read more

Over 75% of colleges no longer require submission of SAT/ACT scores for admission. Has this been the expected boon for students? Has it led to increased diversity and equity? Dr. Linda Hirsch of The City University of New York invited me to speak about a test-optional admissions process and its unexpected implications for students and colleges. If you still think TO has been a net boon for students or society, watch this video!

6/12