Why Some Schools Are Choosing Test Optional Policies

November 17, 2016

By Johnny Duda 



As schools continue to move away from test scores as a necessary component of a student’s application, parents and test takers may wonder applying to a test optional school is the right decision for them. The answer depends.  

ACT, Inc recently published a lengthy report which argues against the new trend in test optional applications. Citing the correlation between low test scores and low high school GPAs, ACT asserts that their test does more than provide an objective standard against which students can be evaluated. ACT insists that in addition to gauging what students have already learned, the ACT provides an accurate indication of college readiness.  

So why the shift? 

In speaking with institutions, the answers leaned toward wanting to provide a more “holistic” way of assessing students, removed from the outside pressures that the testing environment provides. Instead, the holistic approach assesses students against a variety of parameters, not all of which are strictly related to test scores. 

“We want students to realize that they’re not just their test scores,” said a representative from American University, which has recently given students the option to not include test scores. “Sometimes students might do well academically but might not score as well as like.” 

Brandeis University chose to go test optional in mid 2013, citing the desire to allow students more flexibility in how they craft their college applications. “Some students do better on other tests or on analytical papers,” said a representative from Brandeis. “We want to give students options.” Brandeis, like other schools, is not forgoing tests altogether but has provided students with the option to demonstrate their knowledge through analytical papers or other tests such as AP exams. Still, nearly 90% of applicants to the class of 2019 chose to submit test scores as part of their applications (NYT). 

When prepared adequately, with a focus on conceptual learning and critical thinking, test scores can reflect a window into the way a student learns and performs under the heavy pressure environment of the college campus. Therefore, if a student has a strong test score in any particular area, it is often to their advantage to report it. 

For students lacking confidence in their test scores, taking the time to address educational trouble spots is the best way to address underlying foundational issues before the demanding task of college study begins. Testing performance is not a reflection of memorization, but of strong critical thinking skills, and strong thinkers are often strong learners. As always, whether a student chooses to focus on the SAT or ACT, we always contend that the learning process is more important than a numerical score, and a solid foundation for critical thinking skills is what we strive to provide for all students.