What Test Optional Really Means

  • Posted By: Jorge Garza
  • September 10, 2020
What Test Optional Really Means

This year, some K-12 independent schools have made test scores an optional part of their applications. For many schools, this change was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which introduced uncertainty around safe testing options. However, new at-home testing options for two of the most widely-used admissions exams, the ISEE and SSAT, have made testing feasible once again. Let’s take a look at what this new test-optional policy means for your application to independent schools this year.

Test Optional Really Means Submission Optional

In years past, some admissions committees would lean heavily on a single factor—standardized test scores—to determine who would make up their incoming class. As schools (and society at large) become aware of the importance of diversity in education, many are reworking their admissions processes to assess students holistically and to minimize bias. Still, test scores remain a valuable tool for schools, as they provide the sole standardized metric to compare the academic acumen of all applicants. Without test scores, admissions teams have to rely on more subjective metrics, such as grades and letters of recommendation, to assess academic prowess. From the perspective of an admissions committee, grades can only tell you so much when academic rigor varies so widely from school to school or even teacher to teacher.

Although some independent schools are “test optional” this year, that does not mean you shouldn’t take the test. In fact, because submitting test scores is the best way for you to differentiate yourself as a strong academic candidate, you should most certainly still take the test. Once you take the test and get your scores, then you can decide if submitting them will benefit your application. If you have competitive scores for the school you are applying to, then go ahead and submit scores to that school. If you don’t think your scores will benefit your application, then don’t submit them. In short, taking the test can only improve your application and increase your chance of acceptance.

Test Optional at the Collegiate Level

While test-optional admissions are new for K-12 independent schools, some colleges and universities had test optional admissions prior to COVID-19. One of the most notable test-optional schools is the University of Chicago, which was the first highly selective school to go test optional in 2018. Interestingly, about 85-90% of students who applied to the school in 2019 still submitted test scores.

Recently, the University of California system announced that it won’t require ACT or SAT scores for in-state applicants this year but will still use scores for scholarships, course placement, and out-of-state applications. Other test-optional schools still rely on test scores for admissions to some of their more competitive programs, and while highly-competitive schools may have deemphasized the importance of general admissions tests like the ACT and SAT, many have shifted to looking at student performance on other standardized tests, like AP tests and SAT subject tests.

Learn more about why you should still take the SAT and ACT this year.

Test Prep and Test Taking Have Value Beyond Scores

When thinking about admissions tests, we often focus solely on the end goal: getting good scores to get into a good school. But it’s important to remember that the testing process has lasting value beyond admissions. Test taking is a valuable skill that benefits students throughout their entire academic, and quite possibly, professional, career.

Here at Test Innovators, our primary mission is to support student learning. While the focus of that support is helping students prepare for admissions tests, namely the SSAT, ISEE, PSAT, ACT, and SAT, our tools and resources have benefits beyond these specific tests. To learn more, check out our website, and feel free to contact our team if you have questions about how we can help you succeed.

Get started with your test prep today!

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