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Standardized Testing in 2021: Is It Worth It?

Taking the SAT or ACT isn’t a black and white decision this year.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

September 23, 2021

You have a decision to make when it comes to taking the SAT or ACT this college application season.
Standardized Testing in 2021: Is It Worth It?
The 2020 – 21 admissions cycle was undoubtedly the strangest season that higher education has ever seen. Students weren’t able to attend in-person college tours. Admissions deadlines were more of a suggestion. And sitting for a standardized test? You can forget that. While most components of the college search and application process are up and running normally now (or at least, near normal), there is still one that continues to be impacted by the global Coronavirus pandemic: standardized testing. This is in large part due to the fact that many colleges and universities went test-optional in response to COVID-19 testing center implications. Testing centers closed or cancelled test dates because they could not accommodate students due to social distancing concerns.

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Additionally, many schools operated on a hybrid schedule or were completely virtual, meaning that the learning experience wasn’t the same as it had been in the past. For these reasons, thousands of colleges have felt that asking students to submit SAT and ACT scores was not an accurate representation of their abilities, skills, and knowledge. As you consider your application for admission – and whether or not to sit for the SAT or ACT – there are a few things you should keep in mind this year. Also, you may want to weigh the pros of taking the SAT or ACT, regardless of how they will impact your college applications.
  1. Do your research on test-optional colleges.

    According to FairTest.org, approximately 1,350 colleges have gone test-optional for the 2021 – 22 admissions cycle. With that, you should check to see if the colleges you’re interested in are accepting standardized test scores as part of the admissions application.

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    If you are a high school sophomore or junior who is making plans to take the test, you should also be investigating whether or not your school choices are test-optional. Many institutions are test-optional for just this admissions cycle. Others will be test-optional for the next 2 – 3 years. Further, there are some that are “piloting” a test-optional admissions policy. This means that for the next few years, they are experimenting with test-optional before making a final decision either way. Admissions requirements may vary from one year to the next. All this to say, do your research. As you find colleges that interest you, check their admissions websites for application requirements. They will detail what you need to know about standardized testing for that particular institution.
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  3. Know the difference between test-blind and test-optional.

    The term “test-optional” may lead students to think that test scores aren’t even considered in admissions decisions, but that’s not the case. There is a term for those colleges that don’t consider test scores whatsoever, and they are known as “test blind.” If you submit your SAT or ACT scores to a test-optional school, they will be part of your admissions application. That may be a great thing if your test scores are impressive. However, if you didn’t score that well on either test, it could hurt your college application. In the past, SAT and ACT scores were automatically sent to your designated colleges without your knowing your score. Now, you can view your score and designate which test scores to send. The cost to send your SAT scores after viewing them is $12 per score, although fee waivers are available to qualifying students. For the ACT, you can send your scores after the test, or combine multiple test scores to produce an ACT superscore. In light of test-optional policies, it’s wiser to view your score first before sending to colleges. That way, you can ensure that they supplement your application in a positive way.
  4. Pros to taking the SAT and ACT.

    The SAT and ACT are more than just admissions requirements. Higher education experts believe that they prepare you for college level coursework. The hours that you spend studying and prepping are teaching you how to be a college student. You may also need those test scores to qualify for merit aid at the college, even at test-optional schools. As you narrow down your list of colleges, it is worthwhile to email your admissions officer at each school to ask if standardized test scores will have any bearing on scholarships awarded to incoming freshmen. If they do, then you need to take the SAT or ACT. Finally, as mentioned earlier, your standardized test score may enhance your application. This is especially true of students who may have a lower or average GPA, minimal extracurricular activities compared to their peers, or a weak letter of recommendation. A good SAT or ACT score will show admissions committees that you’re a well-rounded, capable future college student.

To Test? Or Not to Test? That is the Question

As you can see, the decision to take a standardized test this year is not black and white. It requires a lot of thought and consideration to the types of schools you plan to apply to as well as what your test scores will contribute (or take away) from your admissions applications. If you’re still on the fence about taking these tests, talk to your guidance counselor, admissions officers, and friends and family. They can provide perspectives that you otherwise wouldn’t think of and help you make a decision either way. If you do decide to go for it, be sure to check out our expert advice on navigating the SAT and ACT.

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