According to a recent FairTest press release, 55 percent of all bachelor-degree granting schools in the U.S. have already announced they will be test-optional for students applying to college in the fall of 2022. Included are all Ivy League schools, other selective private institutions such as Emory, Rice, and Stanford, and many flagship public universities such as Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia, Wisconsin and the University of California. Nearly all of the nation’s most selective liberal arts colleges will also remain test optional through fall 2022, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Swarthmore and Wellesley.
DATA DEEP DIVE
Diving into the data, some high-profile institutions aren’t on the list – yet. Up to their eyeballs in application review for the Class of 2025, it’s likely that decisions on requirements for the Class of 2026 will be made this spring as the current application cycle winds down.
By now, we all know the main reasons that prompted these policy changes. A deadly pandemic that caused school closures and resulted in mass cancellations of standardized tests that began in March 2020 and continues today. But that’s not the only reason for the move to test-optional admissions policies.
STANDARDIZED TESTING TURMOIL: NOTHING NEW
Critics of standardized testing have argued for many years that these tests disadvantage Black and Latinx students and students from low-income families. Research studies have shown the extent of this disadvantage. In 2018, combined SAT scores for Asian and White students averaged over 1100, while all other groups averaged below 1000. A 2015 analysis found large and growing gaps in test scores when viewed through this lens, along with significant gaps in average test scores between those students from lowest income families (less than $20,000) and those with family income above $200,000.
Likely prompted by the national protests over racial equality last summer, university and college leaders took active steps to address a key barrier (testing) that has long been seen as perpetuating inequality, particularly at the most selective private and public institutions. For the majority of top schools, this meant a test-optional admissions process but, as we saw at the University of California, the entire system removed SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process for students applying in the fall of 2020 and will continue to be “test free” for students applying in the fall of 2021.
Adding to the testing turmoil, the College Board announced last month that it will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests, effective immediately AND there are potentially three different options this spring for students taking AP exams.
CONFUSION REIGNS SUPREME
Students and parents, if you are confused about what to do next, we’re here to help.
A big source of confusion stems from describing the SAT or ACT as “optional.” By definition when a test is optional, you can choose whether or not you should take the exam and submit your scores. But, as reports on the recently completed early admission cycle highlighted, the vast majority of admitted students submitted test scores. The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, noted that of its early action pool, only 7 percent of applicants who did not submit an SAT or ACT were admitted. Left unsaid – but easily deduced – was that 93 percent of admitted students submitted test scores.
As highlighted in a recent article, other top schools saw higher percentages of early admits without test scores. Tufts University announced that more than half of its early-applicant pool this year had applied test-optional, and 56 percent of those accepted had applied without test scores. Nearly one-third of the University of Notre Dame’s early admits had applied without scores. At Boston University, 71 percent of early admits were accepted without scores.
In her recent blog post, ACT CEO Janet Godwin points to findings from a market research firm, EY-Parthenon, on the implications of COVID-era test optional admissions policies. Among her key takeaways:
- The future of test use policies: It is somewhat unlikely that institutions who adopted temporary or pilot test use policies in response to COVID will return to test-required in the near term.
- Test blind growth unlikely: The research suggests that rapid test blind expansion is quite unlikely. Schools regard test score data as too useful to abandon altogether, and they report that they feel students should be allowed to submit test scores if they wish to do so.
- Extensive test data use continues: Four-year higher education institutions report significant use of testing data in almost every aspect of the enrollment process, despite the 20-30% decrease in students sending test scores.
SAT OR ACT? YES OR NO?
So, should you take the SAT or ACT? From our perspective, the answer is YES. Strong test scores will always enhance your application. Without evidence of significant hardship, financial or otherwise, it’s pretty much a given that your application will be passed over because of the large number of equally high-achieving students who take and submit an SAT or ACT score.
Stressed about the SAT? Let our Top Tier SAT tutors help you boost your scores.
Juniors, now is the time to reschedule any cancelled SAT or ACT exams. This spring, you’ll have to contend with an AP exam calendar which now includes dates in May and June. If that’s the case, look to do an ACT in mid-July or early September or an SAT in late August. It’s possible there will be an SAT in September to help meet the backlog of students who want to take this test.
Our renowned ACT tutors routinely help students make enormous gains in their scores.
Sophomores, use this spring to take full-length diagnostic exams in both the SAT and ACT to determine your best path forward and then use the summer to prep. Your goal should be to complete your SAT or ACT by the fall of junior year. Doing so takes a tremendous amount of pressure off your shoulders in the second semester, when AP exams loom large. We’ve got expert tutors to help you develop a personalized test prep program and reach your goals.
Our tutors offer customized tutoring designed to fit the needs of each student.
After abruptly shifting to 45-minute, all-digital exams last spring, the College Board has debuted a new set of AP testing options this academic year. The new 2021 AP Exam schedule provides three testing dates for each subject between early May and mid-June. High schools don’t need to pick just one of the testing windows or modes. Your AP coordinator can authorize a mix of at-home and in-person exams and mix testing dates, as needed.
The AP Program’s broader goal this year is to create more flexibility to meet the needs of students in yet another academic year marked by disruption. To have more space for social distancing while testing, a school could spread its AP testing across all 3 administration windows: utilizing the Administration 1 paper and pencil exams for some subjects, the Administration 2 digital exams in school for other subjects, and the Administration 3 digital exams in school for any remaining subjects.
A school could administer the Administration 2 digital exams in school for most students, while also authorizing at-home testing for any students who have coronavirus-related reasons not to test in person.
Students, view the 2021 AP Exam Schedule here and be sure to talk to your AP coordinator to learn what your options will be. You cannot choose your own dates – they must be approved by your school’s AP coordinator.
With the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests, AP scores provide another opportunity for students to differentiate themselves in the admissions process. All students, as they plan their high school program, should look to challenge themselves with relevant AP coursework and plan to sit for the spring exams. Even if your school doesn’t offer AP courses, you can still register to take and then self-study for AP exams.
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of COVID-related school closings. Students have displayed amazing resilience in the face of unprecedented challenge and disruption over the last 12 months. Hopefully September will feature the safe opening of schools and classrooms across the globe – and greater transparency from colleges and universities about the role that testing will play in the selection process.