To Test or Not To Test?

To Test or Not To Test

One of the less visible changes that the 2020 pandemic brought us was the shift to “test optional” policies at many schools across the US.  Nearly 2,000 schools have now instituted this policy based not only on the lack of ability to test during lockdown, but on research showing standardized test scores do not offer better indicators of a student’s long term success than their grade averages. 

Colleges today focus on a holistic approach to admission, meaning test scores are only going to be one of the many cogs in the wheel.  High school grades, essays, course difficulty, community engagement, extracurriculars, and interviews are only some in the long list of criteria around which a student is evaluated for admission.  Which means, if your top schools are test-optional schools, you have some decisions to make.


What’s the best option?  SAT?  ACT?  Don’t test at all?  


While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are clear criteria to evaluate as you consider your student’s individual situation.


Do they struggle or thrive in a test environment?

It is possible that taking a standardized test does more harm than good if the student does not receive a high score. Some students become so stressed about their performance on these tests that it affects their overall performance in high school.  

On the other hand, some students thrive under the pressure of a test and have the uncanny ability to recall the information and skill they’ve studied in preparation.  College admissions should highlight the areas a student thrives, so if test-taking is one of them, the SAT or ACT may be a great way to showcase their abilities.


Do they have bandwidth for test prep?

Let’s face it, High School students are busy people.  And often the activities they’re busy with look just as appealing on a college application as a decent test score.  If your student doesn’t have the mental or schedule capacity to prepare well for high level standardized tests, you may decide the stress and pressure isn’t worth losing what they’ve gained in the other activities they’re involved in.

To boot, many studies have shown that stress levels increase significantly during this period of time. If your child is feeling overwhelmed by the pressure, it may be wise to discuss other options with them—such as seeking out assistance from a tutor, enrolling in a prep course, or even opting out of testing altogether.


What are their favorite colleges looking for?

Do some digging to find out what the colleges your student is applying to are looking for and what they mean when they say “test optional”.  For example, some schools may require that you have achieved a certain GPA in order to waive the requirement for test scores. It’s important to research each potential college’s policy on testing before making any decisions about whether or not to take an exam.


Make it as simple as possible.

Taking standardized tests for college admissions can certainly be stressful and overwhelming for both students and their parents alike, but with careful consideration of all factors involved, one can make an informed decision about whether or not it is right for them or their child.

If you want to make it exponentially simpler for yourself and your student, talk to an expert.  An expert can review the results from students’ practice tests and tell them how far they can reasonably increase their score, what type of support would benefit them (e.g., a course, tutoring, or self-study), how long it will take to reach their target score, the test dates to aim for, and more.


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We’ve been helping students get into their dream schools for a long time, and have built an entire library of information along the way to help you figure out what the right choice is for you and your family. 


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