Is the SAT/ACT Worth It With New Test-Optional Policies?

With so many schools going test-optional due to the pandemic, students are wondering if standardized testing is worth it. Here's what one expert has to say!

Francesca MorrisseyFrancesca Morrissey
Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
According to FairTest.org, “At least 1,400 US four-year colleges and universities will not require ACT/SAT scores for fall 2022 entry; test-optional/test-blind policies are the 'new normal' for admissions at more than 60% of all bachelor-degree [granting] institutions.” With that being said, there’s still great value in sitting for a standardized test and being able to report scores. If you take the test and do poorly, no one will force you to report your scores. You can just apply to test-optional schools and pretend like your SAT or ACT never happened. However, if you surprise yourself with above-average scores for a particular school, it’ll work to your advantage to submit your test scores. (Most colleges publish the median standardized test scores for their most recent incoming class of students on their website.) In other words, not submitting test scores to a test-optional school can’t hurt you, and submitting above-average scores can only help you—not only with being admitted but also with merit-based scholarships.

It's also important to note that for the 2020–2021 application cycle, the percentage of students who submitted scores versus those didn’t was well over 60% at elite schools such as Harvard University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute Technology, Georgetown University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Statistical evidence shows that of those accepted to such schools, 75% had submitted scores versus 25% of accepted students who didn’t. Also keep in mind, you may have a school on your list that requires test scores as part of your application. 

My recommendation? High school students should sit for their first SAT or ACT in either May or June of their junior year to get a feel for the test and receive a baseline score. This should be followed by some intense test prep—either online, with an in-person tutor, at a group tutoring center, or independently using a test prep book—leading up to sitting for an August test date the summer prior to senior year. If after your second attempt you feel the need to try the test one more time, you can still do so in either October or November. I don’t recommend taking the test more than three times, as many colleges frown upon this.

Start getting ready for the SAT or ACT with advice in our Test Prep section.

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