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Test-Optional Schools: Just how optional are those test scores?

Since the spring of 2015, 44 colleges have made the decision to drop the requirement of college admission test scores from their application process. According to FairTest, this brings the total number of test-optional colleges and universities to over 850. Unfortunately, it seems this growing trend in higher education holds more benefits for the schools who implement this policy than it does for their potential applicants.

Test-optional universities typically get a boost in the number of total applications received. In turn, this influx of applications results in more rejections which brings down the school’s acceptance rate, creating the illusion that the university has become more exclusive. Additionally, schools expect low scoring students to opt out of reporting test scores, which in turn could raise the average test score of the student population by removing many of the lowest scores from the equation. These statistics favorably impact college rankings for test-optional colleges.

Not all test-optional schools are created equally. The application process varies greatly from institution to institution. In fact, scores may not be optional for homeschooled students or in order to be considered for scholarships or financial aid packages. Many schools also require extra essays or minimum GPA requirements for students to forego the test scores submission process.

It is important to remember that even if you choose not to disclose your ACT/SAT scores when applying to a test-optional university, you will still be competing for admission with applicants who have submitted their scores for review. The general assumption schools make is that applicants who choose not to submit test scores do so out of fear that the score would weaken their application. Therefore, other aspects of the student’s application will be reviewed with a greater level of scrutiny. Test-optional schools are a great option for students who are otherwise well-rounded or who possess a specific skill or talent but perform poorly on test day.* The test-optional application process most certainly is not a simplified procedure but rather an alternative to the traditional path toward college acceptance.

            *It’s important to note that while many students score lower than they anticipated,
             only a very small percentage of students can’t improve their test scores in a meaningful way.

Written by Standard-Level Tutor, Jennifer Murphy

FairTest vs College Board: Why Neither is Totally Right

I’ve been teaching students how to beat standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for over a decade now. Invariably, I start tutoring with those students by pointing out what should be obvious: these exams measure how well you take exams, not your aptitude or your ability to do college work.  In some cases there may be a direct correspondence: students who have excellent grades have correspondingly excellent scores.  And yet, there is a not-insignificant group of students with outstanding grades and poor scores.  Does this mean standardized testing is unreliable?  Or that it fails to consistently predict student success?  Not exactly, and yes, respectively.

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about the single best input for determining college success: the high school GPA.  Time and time again a high correlation has been shown between success and engagement in academics in high school (as represented by an unweighted GPA) and performance in college.  That’s because the GPA is a many-faceted thing.  It samples various different types of classes according to how often you took them.  Classes that meet every day are weighted more than classes that meet once a week, and yet should you take French 5 times a week and Physics 5 times a week, the GPA agnostically weights them equally.  The grades for these classes themselves are multi-faceted.  Those grades represent tests, homework, class participation, quizzes, and possibly group work and projects.  Hardly one-dimensional, the GPA is an accurate and balanced reflection of a student’s aptitude and work ethic.

A three-hour test on a given Saturday morning, on the other hand, is very much a one-dimensional thing.  Neither the SAT nor the ACT tests math levels above Trigonometry, meaning that juniors in Precalculus and beyond will need to pull out old notes to prep for the Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 which are heavily featured in the math section of both of these tests.

There’s also the alleged “Science” section on the ACT, which is nothing but a glorified “interpreting charts and graphs” section which features tricky questions and purposely distorted graphics much more than legitimate science questions.

There are some useful sections to these tests.  Reading comprehension is a lifelong skill – and a skill in even greater refinement in our age of information overload.  Most students take comfort in the familiarity of the question type, even if they are cowed or bewildered by the wording of the questions or the time constraints (students are typically not given adequate time to answer the questions).

I could go on, but at this point you might (rightly) ask how I can in good conscience uphold such flawed testing by doing test prep?  Fair enough.

These exams are accepted by the overwhelming majority of universities, for better or worse, as an additional – sometimes coequal – criteria for admission.  My mission has always been to help my students get into the school they want to get into.  If the hurdle is this or that specific test, I want to help them beat that test.  I have no power to change a system deep within the bowels of an institution (academia) which is defined by inertia.  So I do what’s possible: help my students beat the obstacles in place.  For those who can’t afford test prep or who simply struggle with testing, FairTest has compiled a list of schools that don’t use testing as a deciding factor in admissions.

In the challenging world of college admissions, FairTest can rightly claim that standardized testing isn’t holistic, while College Board (the writer of the SAT) can claim that while not holistic, standardized testing still has correlations with college success, while we at Get Smarter Prep can claim that we are among your best options to improve on these tests, should you choose to apply to a school that uses them.  We hope you take this article as an encouragement to be proactive instead of letting this overwhelming process “happen” to you.  As always, we are here to help anytime.