College entrance exams: will the “test optional” policy be the new trend?

Author: E. Liz Kim

Traditionally, there are two main college entrance exams: Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT). Their intended purpose is to be a common yardstick with which to evaluate all students equally.  The tests have been criticized as having implicit cultural, racial, and gender bias.  Test scores have shown a strong correlation to test takers’ socioeconomic backgrounds. Families with more money usually live in wealthier school districts with more resources and can afford tutors to help with test preparation and other educational assistance. The tests have become a better measure of accumulated opportunity that applicants have had than their potential for academic success at college.

In response to the pandemic creating obstacles to group test-taking, many colleges and universities suspended the testing requirement. As public health and safety concerns are addressed, schools need to decide whether to make “test optional” policy permanent in their admissions process. There has been a movement among colleges and universities to adopt a test-optional admission policy permanently. Some 63 campuses have expressed their interest in “test blind” admissions policy. See https://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Test-Blind-Admissions-List.pdf. However, their implementation or adoption runs the gamut. Some examples of qualifying conditions are:

  • Cal Tech (2-year trial)
  • California State University system (23 campuses through Spring 2023 admission cycle)
  • University of California system (Nine campuses will not consider ACT/SAT scores for 2021 by state court order and will not consider ACT/SAT scores for 2023 and 2024 applicants by Board of Regents vote)
  • Cornell University (not universal; 2-year trial only for schools of Agriculture, Architecture, and Business)
  • Northern Kentucky University (for applicants with high school GPAs of 2.75 or above)
  • University of Washington – Seattle (1-year pilot with scores sometimes used to make decisions about wait-listing applicants)
  • Saint Xavier University (1-year pilot, except for Nursing program)

So, what do colleges and universities mean by “test optional” or “test blind”? Students must understand that “test optional” DOES NOT mean “test blind.”  

“Test optional” policy means it is not mandatory for students to submit their SAT or ACT scores as part of their applications.  Schools will review test results they receive in the admissions decisions.

“Test flexible” policy allows applicants to submit standardized test scores to support their applications. Schools may have their own list of scores (e.g., IB exams, SAT subject tests, AP tests, etc.) that they will accept in place of the SAT or the ACT. Students need to find out from each school which test scores they may be required to submit.

“Test blind” policy means students are not required to submit any standardized test score.  The schools will not use test scores in the admissions process and will not consider SAT/ACT scores even if submitted. 

The caveat is students need to read the fine print. Students need to be aware that schools may take different approaches. For some colleges, “test optional” only applies to applicants who meet academic requirements (e.g., GPA, test scores, class rank, etc.). Others may require test scores for out-of-state applicants, or for students pursuing certain majors. In addition, a high test score can qualify the student for merit-based scholarships. It is imperative that students check with the schools’ admissions offices for details. Keep track of their admissions requirements and any information about how they evaluate test scores.

Finally, keep in mind that in the “test optional” admissions process, colleges and universities will consider with increased scrutiny their other application documents, looking for different evidence of excellent academic preparation.

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