As your college list takes shape, you may find that some of your schools are test-optional or test-flexible. With an increasing number of schools adopting alternative testing policies, it’s important to know what that means, and how it could affect you as you prepare to apply to college.
To be Test-Optional or Test-Flexible means that a college does not have traditional SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test requirements to be considered for admission. These schools deemphasize the use of SAT and ACT scores in making admissions decisions, by either not requiring standardized tests at all, or by giving students more flexibility about which test scores to submit.
Test-Optional schools do not require applicants to submit any SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores. Generally, even if a school is Test-Optional, applicants can still choose to submit their SAT or ACT scores. Although a small number are “test-blind,” meaning they won’t consider scores at all, even when they are submitted. At some Test-Optional schools, students may be asked to submit alternative credentials such as additional recommendation letters, supplemental essays, or graded class assignments in lieu of standardized test scores. In addition, certain applicants may still be required to submit testing, such as international applicants who need to demonstrate English Language Proficiency.
Test-Flexible schools want applicants to submit standardized testing, but it does not have to be the SAT or ACT. Instead, Test-Flexible colleges allow students to choose the standardized testing that represents them best. There is a wide range of these policies, from allowing students to submit 2 or 3 SAT Subject Tests, to results from just about any standardized tests (including IB or AP scores, or even the PSAT), in lieu of the SAT or ACT. In addition, some schools will allow students to submit scores in combination. For example, students could choose an SAT Subject Test in Math, the SAT Writing section, and an IB score in Biology.
Looking ahead to the college application process this fall, you can use your understanding of Test-Optional and Test-Flexible policies to present yourself in the best light to these colleges.
At a Test-Optional school, the decision to submit SAT or ACT scores is up to you. Remember, if you submit your scores, the college will consider them, so you need be mindful about the decision. In general, if your test scores are at the high end of a college’s middle 50% range, or above that range, then submitting test scores would strengthen your application. If your test scores are below a college’s middle 50% range, or toward the lower end, then submitting scores may not be to your advantage. Submitting weak test scores to a Test-Optional college could hurt your application, but you won’t be penalized if you don’t submit your scores. No matter what, always make sure that any scores you send represent you well, relative to the college’s overall applicant pool.
At a Test-Flexible school, you have the flexibility to choose the scores that represent you the best. Since each Test-Flexible policy is unique, you need to review each school’s options, and compare them to the tests you’ve taken (or are planning to take). Are you taking any AP or IB exams this year, or have you taken the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or ACT? By looking at all of the tests you’ve taken (or are planning to take), you can choose your strongest scores within the parameters set by each school.
Remember, if you’re ever unsure about whether or not to send test scores, or which scores to send, you can always ask your college counselor for help.