An integral part of the American school system since the 1970s, standardized tests haven’t changed much since their inception. For years, students have been told to put away their books, scribble in the circles using a No. 2 pencil; and, when the timer dinged, rush to put their pencils down. As of late, the landscape has changed. Now, those ubiquitous (and oft-dreaded) tests have taken on a new sense of urgency. That’s because high school students can forego these exams in favor of test-optional college admissions at some universities.
Certainly, it’s tempting to toss the old notion of high-stakes exams to the wayside. After all, very few of us can say with a straight face that we enjoy the pressure, the headaches, and the grueling hours spent studying for a test that seems to serve little purpose. However, inconvenience and stress aren’t necessarily grounds for dismissal.
Deciding if this route is the right one for you or your child is an individual choice that should only be made after fully understanding the process. Here’s a glimpse at what test-optional college admissions involve and some ways to determine if it’s appropriate for you.
Schools that are “test optional” make admission decisions with little or no consideration for SAT or ACT scores. Some of them will, however, use test results in order to determine course placement. In these institutions, students can decide whether or not to include test results with their admission paperwork.
Alternately, there are also “test-blind” schools, such as Hampshire College, that absolutely refuse to even look at test scores no matter how high (or low) your score.
For a school to completely buck the system in this fashion has its consequences. In its first year of practice, Hampshire was dropped from U.S. News & World Report rankings. The result? A larger enrolled class and far more minority and first-generation students. Meanwhile, the average high school grade point average of students stayed the same at 3.5.
There are many reasons a student might choose to opt out of high-stakes testing. Some students don’t test well despite having the knowledge and skills to be successful. These students may be filled with test anxiety or simply struggle with sitting still. Whatever the reason, they fear that the scores won’t accurately reflect their potential.
Like with most things in life, there are pros and cons to every decision. When deciding whether to opt out of testing, are several important things to consider, including:
Your test-taking history
From state-mandated exams to weekly classroom assessments, most people have a long history of taking tests. Yet each person’s history is unique to them. Do you excel when faced with pen-and-paper assessments? this type of strategic thinking can bring out the best in some students. Alternately, do you freeze up or find it difficult to accurately show your knowledge?
If exams don’t accurately reflect your knowledge and skills, it may be time to opt out.
Schools of interest
Though higher ed is shifting toward test-optional admissions, there are still many schools that don’t offer such an option. Consider what programs you want to attend to decide whether you’ll be required to submit test scores. For a list of colleges and universities that feature testing-optional admissions, visit here.
Your academic past
When schools choose to forego exam scores, they often rely more heavily on grades and course load difficulty. If you have an academic record that reflects high scores in advanced, honors, IB, or AP classes, you may appreciate the flexibility of testing-optional admissions. Likewise, if your transcript shows substantial improvement over time, it may be a good route for you to choose.
Opting out of testing can be advantageous for many students if done correctly and in the appropriate scenario. Such a decision should be made with care so that your future schooling isn’t sacrificed.