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What is "test optional"?

posted Sep 8, 2015, 7:59 PM by   [ updated Sep 11, 2015, 7:54 PM ]

Most universities around the world require some form of standardized testing as part of the admission process. In the US specifically, the SAT and ACT have traditionally been a requirement for applicants. However, this trend is changing in the US with some institutions no longer requiring standarized testing or becoming "test flexible". Testing and admission to US colleges is a very hot topic in recent years. 


There are a number of reasons why universities choose to make this shift. Some do this because grades in a rigorous high school program are a better predictor of student success at university. Some want to increase diversity on their campus and there are concerns about bias, especially socioeconomic bias, on tests like the SAT and ACT. Removing that barrier for some students, increases their access to higher education. CNN recently highlighted this practice. Fair Test has also shared some data about trends in scores amongst different nationalities, gender, and family incomes. See that information here

Finally, and what we believe is a large driving force, is the impact on rankings. Many families choose universities solely based on their rankings and reputation. This means that universities make institutional decisions that could help boost their rankings. For example, students who apply test optional and do not send standardized test scores will usually average 100 points or so lower than other applicants. When a university publishes data about an incoming class, excluding lower test scores of admitted students means their average score for students accepted is higher, thus making them look more competitive AND giving them a boost in the rankings that unfortunately so many students and parents hold so dearly. This has been going on for well over a decade and is highlighted by former President of Reed College in this NY Times column from 2006.


The universities who choose to become test optional are typically smaller in size and they already review student applications holistically (look beyond numbers). For a complete list of universities who are test optional, check out

Should students send their scores anyway?

Students should consult with their counselors to determine if this is the best option if a school in their list is test optional. Typically if a student's standardized test scores are lower than the middle 50% of accepted students, it might be wise to not send scores. It's best for students to check with each college however to see if anything else is required in place of the tests though (ie: additional essay, graded paper from a teacher, etc.).

And what is test flexible?

Test flexible means just that. While an SAT score might not be required, some other form of assessment may be required in it's place. NYU in the last few years has moved to this option. Students may choose to apply with their IB Predicted Grades as opposed to SAT or ACT testing.