What's the Deal with Test Optional Schools?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/14/2012

There are an increasing number of colleges that are either Test-Optional or Test-Flexible in the college application process.  But what does that mean?  And how will it affect you?  Read on to clear up your confusion about alternative testing policies.

Test-Optional and Test-Flexible are college admissions testing policies that do not have the traditional SAT, SAT Subject Test, or ACT requirements.  These schools deemphasize the use of SAT and ACT scores in making admissions decisions, either by not requiring them at all, or by allowing students to submit other types of test scores, or even graded class assignments.  For a complete list of Test-Optional and Test-Flexible schools, visit

Test-Optional.  Will not require SAT, SAT Subject Test, or ACT scores from their applicants. However, most Test-Optional colleges will give you the option to submit your scores if you want to. In some cases, a test-optional school will ask that if you choose to not submit your SAT or ACT scores that you submit a graded paper you wrote for school or some other project or credential, instead.

Test-Flexible.  Test-Flexible schools are a bit different because they want to see the results of somestandardized testing, but it does not have to be the SAT or ACT, per se.  Test-Flexible policies range from allowing students to submit 2 or 3 SAT Subject Test scores instead of the SAT or ACT, to allowing applicants to submit the results of just about any standardized tests (IB or AP scores, for example). Schools will sometimes allow students to submit scores in combination, such as the SAT Critical Reading Section, the AP Calculus exam, and an SAT Subject Test in French.

If you see that some schools on your list are Test-Optional or Test-Flexible, you can use that information to help present yourself in the most favorable light to that school. 

At a Test-Optional school, if your SAT or ACT scores are at the high end of their middle 50% range, or above their middle 50% range, it would probably be to your advantage to submit your test scores.  However, if your scores are on the lower end of their middle 50%, or below their middle 50% range, you may want to consider not submitting them.  No matter what, you’ll want to make sure that the scores you send represent you well, relative to the college’s overall applicant pool.  

At a Test-Flexible school, you want to submit the best scores you have – and you have some flexibility on what to send. Each college’s policy is unique, so it’s important to review each school’s test options, and compare them to your scores. Within the college’s parameters, choose the scores that represent you best. You can always ask your college counselor for help if you’re having trouble deciding.   

Test-Optional and Test-Flexible policies are numerous and complex – and the options are increasing.  So it’s important to always check with the school directly to confirm their testing policy before making any assumptions.  However, if you take the time to educate yourself and read each school’s instructions, you can present yourself (and your testing) in the best possible light.