Taking standardized tests seems to be right up there with writing essays as the most dreaded part of the college admissions process. The tests are a great idea in theory – a way to compare students from all different backgrounds/schools/experiences on their readiness for college. Except, they don’t seem to quite work like that in practice. The tests don’t actually measure how prepared a student is to take on the challenges of college level work; instead they measure how well a student takes that particular test. Some students are better suited to taking those types of tests than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those students are destined to fare better in college. Then there’s the issue of some students having the advantage of being able to utilize expensive tutoring or test prep classes that others don’t have access to. Is it a fair comparison when some students spend hours working with professionals and others are on their own?
With all of the problems acknowledged, the fact of the matter is that right now, standardized tests ARE part of the college admissions process. But some colleges are starting to de-emphasize the weight placed on test scores by implementing test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies. Test-optional means that students may submit test scores if they want, while test-flexible means that other test scores may take the place of the standard SAT or ACT, such as AP tests, IB tests, or SAT Subject tests. Additionally, some schools waive the test score requirement if a student meets a certain GPA or class rank requirement.
You can find a list of the colleges that have test-optional or test-flexible policies here. Keep in mind the footnotes at the bottom of the list. While sometimes it is the case that applicants to the schools on the list don’t have to submit scores at all, this is not always the case. Some of the schools still require test scores be submitted for out-of-state students or for academic placement, or may require submission of scores but only consider them if a minimum GPA or class rank is not met. This last one is the policy of the California State University system, so don’t think you can get out of the tests just by applying to CSU campuses!
My advice about taking advantage of test-optional admissions policies is to submit your scores if you feel that they strengthen your application, but not to submit if you feel that they are not an accurate representation of your abilities. You can work on strengthening other aspects of your application if the latter is true for you. Remember that if a college has a test-optional policy, they mean that the tests are truly optional and you will not be penalized in the decision-making process for not submitting scores.
The majority of colleges do still consider test scores in some capacity, so here are some resources to help you do your best when you take the SAT or ACT: