Short-falls of Test Optional Policy – Data Driven Approaches Benefit All Students

The newly popularized test optional policy seems super enticing to the average high schooler. No more testing anxiety, or stress over getting the highest score possible, or countless hours devoted to studying and taking practice tests. But despite the test optional policy’s appealing traits, the cons outweigh the pros. There are so many more reasons why standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are, ultimately, our best bet for creating a more equalized and fair college admissions process.


One of the biggest short-falls of the test optional policy is the lack of objectivity. The college admissions process has never been fully objective, but without an ACT or SAT score, universities are left to rely solely on extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, essays, and grades. Letters of recommendation and essays are great for measuring a student’s character, but don’t contribute as accurately to a measurement of a student’s academic readiness for university. And every high school has a different grading system, with different levels of grade inflation and deflation, and different classes offered. Many schools in lower-income areas, for example, don’t have the capacity or the demand to offer as many AP and honors courses as a school in a wealthier area. This affects measures of class rigor and GPA.

Extracurriculars are a difficult measurement as well- many after-school activities cost students and their families a lot of money. Sometimes this looks like spending thousands of dollars a year on sport costs, like a team or club fee, equipment, out-of-town tournaments, etc. But sometimes it is simply that a student spending hours after school playing a sport or acting in a musical or taking part in a science olympiad isn’t feasible due to familial responsibilities. Students might have to work to support their family, or babysit younger siblings. These are the kinds of things that interfere with a student’s ability to create the “perfect” college application. They are also things that wouldn’t necessarily hinder one’s ability to do well on the ACT or SAT.


Another one of the short-falls of the test optional policy is the issue of a lack of transparency in colleges’ and universities’ motives. When a school goes test optional, they are able to raise significantly their average ACT and SAT score ranges. You’ll see a school post that their average ACT range is 29-32, when in reality the average is much lower, but the students scoring lesser are simply going test optional. Higher scores make a school seem more elite, and thus desirable. This earns the university more applicants, resulting in a lower acceptance rate (and more money from application fees!), which furthers this cycle. Going test optional also makes the application process for the student seem a little more accessible.

Schools that someone might have never considered before due to low test scores are suddenly within reach. While there are obvious pros to this, the reality is that thousands of other applicants are thinking the same thing. Students begin applying to more and more schools, spending more money on applications and lowering more schools’ acceptance rates. It makes the entire process so much more competitive. While colleges love the test optional policy, it’s not because they love their students. As with most things in life, the test optional policy tends to benefit the systems, businesses, institutions, corporations, etc. and not a whole lot else.

The truth is that, despite the inevitable stress, standardized tests are really the lesser of college application evils. Through fee waivers, extended time options, tests hosted in schools, and grading on a curve, the testing companies work hard to provide equal access to everyone. And they only take up a few months of a student’s life, as opposed to the years that extracurriculars or clubs might consume. There are few options for completely standardized measures of academic readiness, and while we should always continue to look forward and keep improving, I don’t think we should cross off the ACT and SAT just yet.