What Is the Test Optional Movement?

Standardized testing is one of the biggest stressors for high school students. And it’s easy to see why: Scoring well on the SAT or ACT may not clinch a student’s admission to their dream college, but scoring below average for that school may mean that a student’s application isn’t even considered.

In general, standardized tests are often emphasized as a critical component for acceptance into a “good” college. However, in recent years, many schools have started to recognize the drawbacks of weighing standardized testing heavily in the college admissions process.

While one approach looks for ways to improve the SAT and ACT, another approach, the test optional movement, advocates for bypassing standardized testing altogether. Schools that are part of the test optional movement either do not require standardized testing scores as part of a student’s college application or will accept other measures (e.g. SAT Subject Test scores, AP test scores, other graded work, participation in on-campus seminars and discussions) in lieu of standardized test scores. There are currently over 1,000 US colleges (approximately one-third of schools) that waive some or all standardized testing requirements. Note that many of these colleges will gladly accept test scores; they just don’t require them.

The test optional movement argues that standardized test scores don’t add meaningful value to a student’s application because testing only shows a small part of a student’s academic abilities and potential. Students may have a lot to contribute to a college campus that can’t be captured by these exams.

Removing testing requirements also helps colleges exit the rat race of trying to appear as selective as possible. That’s right, students aren’t the only ones trying to look good: colleges want to appear desirable to students and families, and one way to do so under the current system is to only admit a small percentage of applicants with the highest test scores and grades. Removing test scores from the equation takes some of the pressure off, allowing schools to review applications from a wide range of applicants, some of whom they might have otherwise missed.

You might be wondering where Signet, as a company that offers test prep services, lands on this issue. It might surprise you to learn that we think the test prep industry has some serious problems! While we do a lot of SAT/ACT tutoring, we would be happy to wave goodbye to these tests one day. They’re neither the most productive use of a student’s time nor a great indicator of their success in college and afterwards. It’s our hope that we’re moving toward a college admissions process that’s less controlled by private corporations with strong conflicts of interest and more attuned to what is best for individual students.

But that change is not yet fully realized, which means that many, if not most, students still need to submit test scores as part of their college applications. If a student chooses not to do so, they must be 100% certain that they will only apply to test optional schools. We recommend that all students begin to engage with the test prep process unless and until they made have a well-considered decision not to. By taking a deliberate approach and building a clear study plan for the SAT or ACT, students can reduce some of the stress associated with these exams.

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