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Is Test Optional REALLY an Option? What Families Should Know

You may have heard that during the pandemic, more and more colleges and universities went “test optional.” As in, no SAT or ACT required for admission. 

But what does test optional mean? Does test optional really mean it’s an option? Or is there a penalty to pay for skipping the ACT or SAT? And as life returns to some semblance of normalcy, will those colleges remain test optional or return to requiring standardized entrance tests? What does the future hold?

Alas—we don’t have a crystal ball, so we went to an expert: Bryan Contreras, vice president of K12 partnerships at myOptions, who has counseled hundreds of college-bound students and families. 

Here’s the advice he gives to parents and students on what to know before opting in or out of college entrance tests:

What to Know About Test Optional

1. Know the terminology.

There are four “flavors” of testing requirements:

  • Test required: your student must send either an ACT or SAT score to be considered for admissions.
  • Test optional: your student may choose whether or not to submit an ACT or SAT score, and it will not be held against them if they do not submit one. (Yes, really!)
  • Test blind: the college will not look at test scores for the purpose of admission, but they may be used for the purpose of awarding scholarships.
  • Test flexible: the student may submit an alternative assessment in place of the ACT or SAT. While you may or may not see this term on a college’s website, Contreras sees more colleges and universities becoming open to this idea. 
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2. Know your options.

How do you know if a college will accept an alternative assessment? Ask the admissions office! In lieu of entrance scores, some colleges may accept: 

  • A graded assignment
  • An additional personal statement (essay)
  • A long-term project
  • A teacher recommendation

3. Ask questions!

If a college or university is test optional, it’s important to know what other metrics they are relying upon to determine admission. Good questions to ask include: 

  • How is my GPA  weighted?
  • What is your acceptance rate for students with and without test scores?
  • How important are co-curricular activities?
  • How is work experience valued?
  • Are test scores still needed to be considered for scholarships?
  • Who will be reading my application?

Whether or not the schools on your student’s list require entrance tests, Contreras emphasizes this point: “They don’t have a secret agenda. What colleges really want to know is, what will your student bring to the table?”

Yes, test results can be a key piece of data to help colleges decide if a student will be a good fit, but it’s not the most important one. Most important, says Contreras, “is to help your student focus on self-discovery, and what problems they want to solve in the world.” 

Answering those questions will allow your student’s personality shine through on their application. As Contreras tells the students he counsels: “Remember: You are the CEO of you.” Watch the video below for more information about testing. 


Jennifer Proe was a writer and editor with Your Teen Media. 

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