We’ve all been on a roller-coaster with respect to 2020 SAT and ACT testing. Scheduled exams get cancelled only to be rescheduled and cancelled yet again. Then, after hours of dedicated prepping for the exams, many colleges and universities announce that they are going test-optional. Parents and students aren’t sure whether to let out a sigh of relief or scream of frustration.
So what does test-optional really mean?
We’ve done a little investigating because clearly, if standardized tests no longer matter to institutions of higher learning, there’s no reason for us to prepare your student for them nor for your student to take them.
The definition of test-optional is pretty straight-forward on the face of it: A student may elect to submit standardized tests or choose not to. According to Fairtest.org, as of August 12, 2020, more than half of America’s four-year colleges and universities have shifted to test-optional policies.
Before you burn your study materials, let’s look a little further. When investigating individual college websites, the details tell a different story.
For example, take this snippet from Harvard’s admissions information.
Harvard provides additional information here. You’ll note that while it clearly states that those without standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged, they stop short of stating that those with strong standardized test scores won’t be advantaged.
So while Harvard has made standardized test scores optional, if a student has them, those scores will be considered as part of the total student package. We interpret this as follows: If a student has strong test scores, it could help the student’s admission prospects.
“The test-optional pilot program will allow students the choice to submit a test score to be included in the evaluation of their application. This empowers students to decide what they consider to be the strongest application put forward to Notre Dame that may or may not include a standardized test score.
“Moving to test-optional creates a pathway to Notre Dame for all students in the face of challenges brought on by the pandemic,” Christy Pratt, director of admissions, says. “We want students to know that we continue to be committed to providing access and equity in our application process.”
First-year and transfer applicants who decide against submitting standardized test scores for the 2020-21 application year will not be at a disadvantage in the application review process.”
Again, our interpretation of the above is that strong test scores could improve the strength of the student’s application.
Many state schools are following suit.
The University of Maryland has made standardized test scores optional, yet students may elect to include their test scores to be considered in the admissions evaluation.
Per U of M’s Test-Optional FAQs:
“What does test-optional mean?
Applicants for the Spring and Fall 2021 semester have the option of choosing whether to submit an SAT/ACT score and whether those scores will be considered in the review of their application for admission.
What is the process for indicating that I would like my application to be evaluated with or without my test scores?
When students complete the application for admission, they will be asked whether they are submitting official SAT/ACT scores to be used in the evaluation of their application for admission.”
Finally, we consider the information on Cornell’s website:
“For those who have taken, or who can take, ACT and SAT exams
Cornell overall has not planned to adopt a test-optional admission policy permanently. As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work.
In Cornell’s review during the 2020-2021 application cycle, results from the ACT or SAT might still be a meaningful differentiator in particular for students who:
- live near or attend a school that will be open, and where testing will be offered, or who live near a testing center that will be offering more testing seats or dates than they did in 2019; and
- have not experienced lost income for one or more of their household providers or other significant new hardships and losses during 2020.
We can’t pre-define in absolute, comprehensive terms what economic or personal disruptions will look like. We don’t plan to require any students to justify their reasons for not submitting test results.
Students who have taken a test, or even more than one test, but would still prefer not to submit those results, can make that choice.”
This seems to imply that if a student is capable of taking the SAT or ACT, s/he should take the exam(s) and would benefit from submitting the scores as part of the application process.
Yet, this National Association for College Admission Counseling page emphasizes that test-optional MEANS test-optional. You’ll note that Harvard, the University of Maryland, and Cornell are all on the list, and Notre Dame is not. In reading the details of their websites, however, it still seems that submitted test scores will be taken into consideration.
We’ve presented the information above so that you can draw your own conclusions about taking standardized tests based on your student’s overall college admission profile, as well as your student’s target/desired schools.
Our assessment leads us to believe that having strong standardized test scores may help students in the competitive college admissions process. Otherwise, why would universities simply not allow students to submit them? In addition, for a student who perhaps had some less-than-desirable grades in the freshman and/or sophomore years, solid test scores may help to demonstrate to admissions officers that the student has the ability to handle college-level work — especially if grades are trending upwards.
If your assessment corresponds with ours, we encourage you to register for SAT/ACT test prep now.
We would also like to share this August 12, 2020 information from Loudoun County Public Schools:
SAT/ACT Test Administration
Due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many of the regular test dates for the SAT and ACT test administration in Loudoun and across the state were cancelled. LCPS is aware that families of high school students, especially our rising seniors, are concerned about access to future ACT and SAT testing. To help meet those needs, LCPS is working collaboratively with the College Board and schools to provide test dates in the coming academic year.
LCPS is working with the College Board to provide exclusive SAT test opportunities for LCPS seniors at their schools on September 23 and October 27 (which are school days). We will share registration information for the September 23 test date later in August, as soon as it is available.
All tests will be conducted with appropriate physical distancing and other mitigation measures in place. Students must wear a face covering (cloth or disposable) at all times, complete a COVID-19 symptom check questionnaire on the day of the test (prior to entry), and have their temperature taken upon arrival to the testing site.
In addition to the SAT test opportunities for seniors described above, LCPS also will offer SAT and ACT tests on the following dates and high school locations:
- September 26 – Broad Run and Dominion High Schools
- October 3 – Freedom, Independence and Woodgrove High Schools
- November 7 – Dominion, John Champe, Potomac Falls and Tuscarora High Schools
- December 5 – Independence, Loudoun County and Potomac Falls High Schools
- March 13 – Briar Woods, Dominion, Independence, John Champe and Woodgrove High Schools
- May 8 – Broad Run and John Champe High Schools
- June 5 – Broad Run and Park View High Schools
- September 12 – Broad Run High School
- December 12 – Briar Woods, Dominion and John Champe High Schools
- February 6 – Briar Woods, Dominion and John Champe High Schools
Any additional changes for weekend testing sites for the ACT or SAT in LCPS throughout the 2020-21 school year will depend on community health conditions along with state and local health and safety guidelines. Changes will be communicated directly to registered students by ACT or by the College Board for the SAT.
Parents may want to contact their student’s college(s) of interest to find out whether SAT and ACT testing is required for admission and/or scholarship eligibility, as some colleges have eliminated the SAT/ACT requirement.