“Test-optional” policy eliminates previous SAT and ACT requirements

“Test-optional” policy eliminates previous SAT and ACT requirements

Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

Nearly every university and college has elected to have a “test-optional” policy regarding SAT and ACT submissions in the application process for fall of 2021.

This major decision came as an attempt to avoid ensuing panic for students, parents, teachers, and counselors, and aimed to aid combat the havoc COVID-19 has created academically; with AP exams done virtually and nearly all testing locations shut down for five months, the fate of the traditional application process was left up to colleges nationally. Though few schools are still using scores for scholarship purposes, the majority of colleges promote a policy explaining that students who are unable to upload a test score or choose not to will not be penalized for their decision, and will still be holistically assessed in the decision-making.

For students who elect to submit a score, admissions will be reviewed with the same balanced mentality as those without them. Regardless of this alternative method, many questions have emerged about how necessary the tests themselves are and the fairness of the policy. The decision to share or not share scores has left students nationwide in distress and uncertainty.

To submit scores, or not? Simply put, “If students have taken the ACT/SAT and are debating on whether or not to submit that test score, they should check the college website to see what the average test score for acceptance is for that school,” said Counselor Beverly Groth. “If their test score falls in the average range then sending the score could be a benefit, if it is below the range and the student planned to retake the test and due to COVID has not been able to do so then sending it might not be a benefit.”

Regardless, apprehensive weeks, months, and even years of test preparation by virtual means with tutors, textbooks, and programs crashed down into disarray for the majority of high schoolers in the United States. Now that select testing centers have been cleared to reopen, juniors and seniors are competing to make the cut and be allowed entrance into the exam room. For those who took a test prior to quarantine, the circumstance is far less alarming: “I took the ACT in July and got a high enough score to be either at or above the average ACT score for each college I am applying to,” said Senior Sam Spray. “It is high enough to be considered good, and could help my application.” Similarly, Senior Kristen Schang intends to use scores she earned previously; but what about those who were not so lucky?

Students from less advantaged areas may face increased scrutiny and negativity from assessors for their inability to test-take because many testing centers have postponed or cancelled dates, due to indoor restrictions; even those who remain open are inaccessible to the thousands of teens scrambling to get scores. “Colleges that are not “Test-Optional” are likely from a region in our country that was not impacted as severely as others with the Covid-19 virus and therefore, ACT/SAT testing may have continued to be offered,” Groth explained. “However, some colleges, such as the University of Denver, allow test optional admissions because they acknowledge that standardized testing does not always reflect a students true academic capability and that all students may not have had the resources to take test prep courses.”

At MHS, for example, seniors will be given the chance to take the SAT on October 14th at Harbor High School but will not be required to; not all high schools are offering this opportunity. Freshmen may also take the PSAT 8/9 on this date. On January 26th, sophomores and juniors may take the PSAT/NMSQT–these two testing opportunities are optional, but all underclassmen will be required to take a PSAT/SAT for the current year in April.

While some are concerned how the policy will weigh into their application results, others see this as a tentative benefit for future applicants. Junior Elise Elliot explained, “It definitely makes it feel a little less stressful knowing that a standardized test isn’t such a huge part in factoring in if I get accepted into a dream school or not.”
Ideally, all students should be given the opportunity to succeed in a well-balanced academic environment of their dreams–this is not the reality some perceive as possible with the implementation of the test-optional policy. Even if the scores aren’t required, most programs have utilized them heavily in their previous assessments; why wouldn’t they want to again?

“I think that schools still want SAT scores and will use it even if it isn’t mandatory, like some recommendations,” Schang stated. “I think students without SAT scores are at a disadvantage because at highly competitive schools, it is the little things that separate students and I think SAT scores are one of those little things this year.” Any way that a student can make him/herself positively perceived and memorable to admissions officers must be employed; not having a score means that students need to ramp up extracurriculars and other assets of an application.

“Although most colleges say they are test optional, if it comes down to two students with very similar credentials and one has a test score while the other does not, it is likely that the student with the test score will get in,” explained Spray. “However, students could remedy this disadvantage by having other stellar things on their application, like great essays or extracurriculars.” The additional opportunities students will get to highlight and the experiences they will cherish from this warped reality of progressing to college may come with immense long-term benefits, however, as mentioned by Elliot, “People can focus on developing their application strengths for when they later apply to jobs, other colleges or graduate programs since they will need to be stronger without a test score.” After university admissions, SAT and ACT scores serve little importance in determining a student’s next steps, so altering the experience to favor hands-on learning over a number could be in the best interest of future applicants.
Whether a student has a test score to use or not, improving one’s application as a whole is a vital part of acceptance into a university of choice. Improving essays is a good place to start, since outside opportunities to prove growth are currently limited.

Schang elaborates in saying, “At this point, you can’t go back and change what grades you got sophomore year or other things that are locked as part of your application. Work hard on the essay questions.” Spray also advises students to consider explaining their lack of a score, if applicable, in the COVID section of the Common Application.
Students nationwide are hesitant to enter the college application process without the “big picture” experience advertised to them previously. All have embarked on unique journeys to determine future plans from behind a screen, left with fewer options to express themselves as they may have intended; service opportunities, clubs and organizations, and classrooms alike have been halted as COVID became the top priority for everyone. Regardless of whether or not a student has or intends to submit an SAT or ACT score to schools, it is the intention of colleges to maintain a holistic approach to admittance and give incoming freshmen the best chance to flourish beyond high school.