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Inside Standardized Testing: Former Ivy League Dean of Admissions Weighs In

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.

college admissions Standardized Testing Top Tips

Extending Test-Optional Policies

Every day things seem to shift and change in the college admissions landscape. Add in a pandemic and things become even murkier. As you know from reading our blog posts, the test-optional narrative isn’t a free pass if you are aiming high. We still recommend that our students prep for and take the ACT or SAT and APs! We will keep you posted on the 2021-2022 standardized testing policies for many of the top tier colleges and universities.


Keep in mind there is a difference between test optional and NOT ACCEPTING tests like the UC schools– we will follow the news for you and keep you updated.


Amherst Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Barnard Collegetest-optional for Fall/Spring 2022 and Fall/Spring 2023 admission
Baylor Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Boston Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Boston Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Spring 2023
Brown Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Bucknell Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022/2023/2024
Butler UniversityScores no longer required
CalTechtest-optional for Fall 2022
Colgate Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
College of Charlestontest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Cornell Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 – varies by school
Dartmouth Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Davidson CollegeScores no longer required
Elon Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Emory Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Fordham Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Harvard Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Harvey Mudd Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Haverford Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Loyola Marymount Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Macalester CollegeScores no longer required
Middlebury Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Northwestern Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Notre Dame Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Oberlin Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Penn Statetest-optional for Fall 2022
Rice Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Rutgers Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Santa Clara Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Scripps CollegeScores no longer required
Swarthmore Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022
Syracuse Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Trinity UniversityScores no longer required
Tufts Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Tulane Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
UC Schoolsscores will not be considered through Fall 2024
UMass Amhersttest-optional for Fall/Spring 2022 and Fall/Spring 2023 admission
University of ConnecticutScores no longer required
University of OregonScores no longer required
University of Pennsylvaniatest-optional for Fall 2022
University of Pittsburghtest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of Southern Californiatest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of Utahtest-optional for Fall 2022
University of Virginiatest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
University of WashingtonScores no longer required
University of Wisconsintest-optional for Fall 2022
Vassar Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Williams Collegetest-optional for Fall 2022 and Fall 2023
Yale Universitytest-optional for Fall 2022
Breaking News SAT Subject Tests Top Tips

SAT Subject Tests Discontinued, Effective Immediately

The College Board announced today (January 19, 2021) that effective immediately, the SAT subject tests will be discontinued for students in the U.S. and they will be phased out for international students this summer after the May, June test dates.

This decision is the culmination of the slow and steady erosion of the subject tests, exacerbated by the pandemic and test center closures over the course of the last year. Even prior to the pandemic top universities including MIT, CalTech, and Yale had made decisions to no longer even consider these scores in their admissions processes.

The reaction from students, as you might expect, has been highly enthusiastic. Within minutes of the College Board’s announcement, Top Tier students were sending us links to the national news story.


In light of this dramatic announcement, we encourage our students to recommit to your study plan for your upcoming AP exams, (along with your SAT and ACT work and grades). This change will lead admissions officers to put even more emphasis on results of AP exams in upcoming admissions cycles. We also believe that post-pandemic, you’ll see top colleges and universities reinstating the required SAT or ACT for the next admissions season. So, sophomores shouldn’t throw out their subject test books quite yet.

Did you miss the sign up for AP exams? The late registration for exams is March 12th, so get on that now. Remember that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the exam and you can self-study for these exams. We know that some high schools discourage their students from signing up for AP exams but this change in the SAT subject test policy may lead them to reconsider their position. Lobby for yourself!


We also know that many of you were counting on high subject test scores to help you stand out in the crowded college admissions landscape. Without subject tests available, another way you can boost your candidacy includes taking college courses for credit. Earning strong grades in these courses illustrates your readiness for college work and is yet another data point in your evaluation. Especially if you will be applying to colleges without a robust slate of AP tests, college courses are crucial to help you stand out.


Beyond just your grades and scores, colleges are increasingly inspired by students who engage with important issues and who advocate for others. Carve out a space for yourself as a leader and find creative ways to take a stand on issues that are important to you.  Civic engagement is key!

So, recycle those subject test prep books if you are a junior and then get to work! We are here to help you make sense of it all.

ACT college admissions Common Application Insider Tips letters of recommendation SAT Standardized Testing Top Tips

Common Application: Does “Optional” Truly Mean Optional?

You’ve finished the core components of your Common Application – your main essay, your activities, and any required supplements for the schools on your list – and are ready to submit. Then you pause.

Should I self-report my scores? Do I need to respond to the COVID question? Will colleges read the four extra letters from my other recommenders?

Need some last-minute advice? Read on!


Standardized testing these last few months has been an exercise in frustration for seniors. You’ve registered and prepared, only to see test centers shuttered and exams canceled – sometimes with no warning. Maybe you were able to sit for the SAT or ACT once but ended up with a lower score than you had hoped.

For students applying to colleges that are newly test optional, including the majority of the most selective colleges in the country, a good rule of thumb is that if your SAT or ACT scores are well within the middle 50th percentile range, then go ahead and submit these scores. Remember that for many top colleges, the switch to test-optional this year leaves admissions officers without some of the customary guideposts they used to help decisions. If everything else about your application is strong— your GPA, rigor of course load, and rank (if your school calculates one)—then including scores confirms to admissions officers that you are the kind of student they seek to admit.

What if your SAT or ACT scores are below the school’s typical admit ranges? If you are from a high school that typically sends lots of high-scoring applicants their way, admissions officers will likely assume that you are unhappy with your scores and chose not to send them. Remember that they have data from prior years’ applicant pools so they have some sense of what to expect from your school. Students from low-income schools and communities, those in historically underrepresented groups, will likely be given more benefit of the doubt than students from well-resourced families and schools.

We also anticipate that newly test-optional colleges this year will be flooded with applicants from around the country and around the world who, in previous years, may have been discouraged from applying because of lower scores. If applicant pools balloon, guess how admissions officers will sort through applications? They’ll use data – scores and GPA – especially in the first read, to figure out who seem to be the strongest students in their pool. A word about AP scores. If you’ve got a bunch of AP courses on your transcript from junior year, admissions officers will check to see if you self-reported your results. If not, they’ll assume the results were poor. So, if you have scores of 3 or higher, report them! In the absence of an SAT or ACT or subject tests, strong AP scores will also help show your strength.

Common Application COVID Question


The Common App’s new, optional question opens the door for students to share more about the impact of COVID on their “health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable and quiet study spaces.” Should you respond?

First, ask yourself a question. We’ve all had our lives turned upside down these last 9-10 months. Virtual schooling, zoom fatigue, quarantine blues, canceled testing, disrupted activities – these are common to all high school students. If the story you tell pretty much recounts what every high school student has had to contend with, then you are better off not responding to this optional prompt. You risk coming off as tone-deaf or privileged, two things that will form a bad impression in the minds of your application readers. 

Do answer this question if you and your family experienced significant hardship because of COVID – serious illness or death of a loved one, parent’s loss of employment, additional home responsibilities caring and teaching for your siblings, lack of access to technology and other online resources. In addition to sharing your struggles, be sure to show admissions officers how you overcame these unexpected challenges.


Back in the day when students applied to college using pen and paper (seniors, ask your parents about those days), admissions officers had a saying: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” Essentially, students who loaded up their application with tons of extra letters of recommendation were essentially compensating for weaker credentials and basically throwing the kitchen sink at the admissions office.

So, once you’ve assigned the one or two required teachers, be judicious in using any of the optional or “other” recommenders. If you truly believe that a potential recommender can offer a perspective on your candidacy that no other recommender can, then go ahead and tap that person to be your “other” recommender. But, loading up on extra recommendations – even if the college allows – can overload your application with extraneous materials, making admissions officers a little grumpy as they wade through these extra letters. Good luck with your applications and we are here to help if you want last minute essay help or an entire application review before hitting SEND.

ACT coronavirus COVID-19 Standardized Testing

Big Changes Coming for ACT

Post by TTA tutors: Steven and Amy

As we all struggle to find some stability in a chaotic world created by the Coronavirus, it seems that the only constant is change. In many cases, the change is welcome, even necessary.  Such is the case, we believe, with the proposed three major changes coming to the ACT beginning with the September 2020 test date.


  1. The ACT will be available as an online test at select locations in September, 2020. Of course, this is slightly questionable as shelter in place orders continue to extend.

The sections, question types, timing, and scoring will remain the same. The online test may be more comfortable for some students. For others, it might prove more stressful or distracting. Colleges will not know whether you take the online or the paper test — it is strictly a matter of personal preference. The scores for online tests will be available as quickly as two days later. This is significantly faster than the paper test and may be helpful for students who are up against application deadlines.

The online test will be given at specified locations on ACT computers. It will not be available for home testing, or on your own laptop, even at a testing center. Scratch paper will be available, and the testing software will include highlighting tools. You will be able to go back and change answers if there is time remaining in the section.

Some students prefer the comfortable environment of working on a computer screen. Others prefer to have the ability to mark on the page with their pencils as they work through the material. We advise you to try both environments before making your decision. The Official Beginner’s Guide for ACT (a publication of ACT, Inc.) includes access to an online practice test so that you can see for yourself which option is best for you.

  1. ACT will report a “superscore” for those who take more than one ACT.

About one third of all institutions currently allow superscoring. The change is that, now, ACT will automatically report the best score on each of your English, Math, Reading, and Science sections across all of the ACTs you take, and calculate your hypothetical composite score as though each of your best section scores were on the same full ACT. Colleges and universities will still each decide how to handle this information. Some will not consider the superscore in making admission decisions. Be sure to check with the schools and programs you are applying to for more information.

  1. If you have taken one complete, or “full-battery,” ACT at any time since 2016, you may choose to retake individual sections.

You may retake one, two, or three sections as an online test at select locations on any of the seven annual national test dates beginning with September 2020. You may NOT take individual sections as paper-and-pencil exams. In our opinion, this is the most exciting change. It means that, with proper planning, you could take your “full-panel” ACT on one day, and then do the writing section as a stand-alone test at a later date without the fatigue that is a major factor for many students. Some students will benefit from the reduced fatigue and stress when retaking only one, two, or three sections rather than an entire ACT exam.


As always, talk with your tutor to determine whether to take advantage of the new ACT testing format.  Preparedness is still critical, so be sure to work out a plan well in advance of your test date.

The situation with COVID-19 remains a fluid and fast-changing one wreaking havoc on all scheduled testing. Be sure to regularly check testing websites to stay on top of the most recent developments regarding closures or travel restrictions. For more information read our prior post about COVID-19 and admissions.