Is a Test Optional School an Option for Me

Is a Test Optional School an Option for Me

By Guest Blogger Pamela Bernazani, Interim Upper School Principal
College admissions season is upon us and a frequently asked question to our counseling office is what to do about standardized testing results.  Many years ago one would take the SAT once and that was it.  Then the ACT made its debut as a different way to measure potential college success. That drove students to start taking both tests multiple times in hopes of increasing their scores. Today many schools have flexible testing policies. In fact, there are almost 1,000 colleges and universities that do not require standardized test submissions at all from potential candidates. 

Finding the Best Way to Compare Students

SAT and ACT scores are used to provide colleges with a standard way to judge student applications. There needed to be a way to best compare schools and districts from vastly different areas. A student from an affluent high school could have many honors and advanced placement classes on their transcript, whereas a student from a struggling school system may not have those same or similar classes available to him or her. Standardized scores were meant to be an across the board comparison of all applicants regardless of income or school district.  

Test Prep Courses Shift the Paradigm

The shift to test optional came about as test preparation became more popular.  Students with financial means could take prep courses and also take the tests more than once. It became increasingly difficult for some colleges to overlook this disparity. However, another reason for the change becomes clear once you speak with admission representatives from score optional colleges.  The representatives point to data showing that standardized testing has no bearing on college coursework success. This means that the high school transcript is weighted as the best indicator of college success.  Other factors are also taken into consideration: difficulty of coursework, teacher recommendations, student involvement outside the classroom and other extenuating factors that cannot be measured by a four hour exam.  

Be Prepared - School Application Requirements Vary 

Students must be ready to do their homework when it comes to potential college applications and testing requirements.  The website gives a list of all schools that do not require standardized test submission. However, some schools say they are test optional, but still require scores for certain majors such as engineering, nursing, or physical therapy.  Other schools may have a ‘flexible test policy’ where instead of submitting test scores, a student needs to submit a graded assignment, a project, or additional information via extra essays.  And lastly, some schools may require the submission of SAT or ACT scores to be considered for scholarships. Because these requirements can change annually, a student needs to investigate what the specific school policy regarding standardized testing is and be ready to act accordingly.

Here at the Academy

The Academy of Notre Dame prepares Upper School students for these exams by administering a practice ACT (pre-ACT) in the sophomore year and a practice SAT (PSAT) in the junior year.  Students are given access to online practice tests that can be done on their own time.  The Academy does not endorse any particular test preparation center; students wishing to find additional assistance can find multiple resources online.  Guidance counselors at the Academy suggest that students try each standardized test once, then choose the one they decide was a better fit and take that test one more time. As always, it is a very individual decision. Students who are thoughtful and thorough in their college research and who are honest in their self-reflection are those who meet with the most success in the college application process.