To Test or Not to Test?

To Test or Not to Test?

Do applicants need an ACT/SAT score?

Test optional policies became a headline in college admission during the pandemic when students were not able to take standardized testing. Now, student testing profiles and individual college policies determine how each applicant should consider sending scores. As WSJ higher education reporter Melissa Korn tweeted on April 15th, 2022, “The jumble of schools’ SAT and ACT policies is leaving applicants baffled….the (college) language is so confusing that (she) got tripped up writing the article.”

Attempting to generalize about how colleges use standardized testing is impossible. It’s like asking one to summarize how 3,000 companies use data. It varies. College policies change year by year and school by school. So, should a student invest time and effort into maxing out their score if they may not need it? It depends.

Students can make educated decisions about how to use ACT/SAT testing to advantage their application process by using these strategies which will help determine if it is worth it to pursue standardized testing.

Spoiler Alert:  Root recommends that all students take one ACT/SAT to make an informed decision about the use of standardized testing in their application process. Consider ACT/SAT testing dates (almost every month) and plan when will take first official test. Often this is during the summer after 10th grade or during the 11th grade.

Know the testing profile.

Take a free online practice ACT/SAT and see results. Read online resources about ACT vs. SAT to get a sense if one might be a better fit. Compass Prep has an excellent blog. Evaluating these results (and results of school testing such as the PSAT) will give a sense of which test to pursue and what specific areas could benefit from prep.

Explore test prep options.

Consider free and “for pay” opportunities to prepare to excel on standardized testing. What is the budget? Is their time and the commitment to pursue test prep? Is it worth the effort and investment to improve score?

What are the testing policies at colleges of interest?

For example, Michigan State University is test optional.* Applicants are evaluated with or without a score. The University of California system is test free meaning they will not consider testing. The University of Florida system requires a test score for all applicants. The University of Michigan is test flexible and prefers a score, but admits some students without scores.

*Test Optional means different things on different campuses. For some, it means that applicants who choose to apply without sending a score should supplement their application with a significant “other” element while other colleges do not expect gapping of a “missing” score.

Some colleges are transparent about the number of students they submit without scores while others choose not to disclose that data. Most private schools are test optional but still publish their average scores. Some private schools like MIT have returned to requiring standardized testing. Some colleges only award merit scholarships to students who have a certain ACT/SAT score.

What are the average ACT/SAT scores for colleges of interest?

A student should only submit scores to a test optional or test flexible college if their score matches or is above the average for that school. This means an applicant may choose to submit their score to some colleges but not to others.

Stay aware of college testing policies.

It is important to stay up to date on ever changing college testing policies. A college which is test flexible this cycle may require a score next cycle. Some college policies include a timetable of their requirements making planning easier. College admission pages are the best resources for testing policies. also keeps track of which colleges require what testing.

Considerations should include maintaining mental health. Becoming obsessed with scoring a certain number at the expense of sleep, GPA, and other activities is never recommended. Having a goal to hit a certain score to be admitted to a first choice school can be a healthy pursuit if one stays balanced with an educated perspective about how testing may advantage their process.

Be honest about the student’s standardized testing profile and stay in the know about the college list’s testing policies. Then answers to, “Should I take the test?” and, “Should I send the score?” will remain rooted in logic and data.