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What is “test optional” and why does it matter?

Explore what colleges mean when they refer to themselves as test optional.

With COVID-19 pandemic raging, most student activities and events were forcibly cancelled or delayed. For a majority of the students, the most significant event that was cancelled was likely their SAT & ACT exams. Thus, in response to the cancellation of standardized testing, most colleges around the world have implemented a new solution that takes one of the following two forms: “test blind” or “test optional” admissions.


“Test Blind” vs. “Test Optional”

Firstly, let’s address what “test blind” refers to. When college admissions stipulate that they are implementing a “test blind” policy, it means that they will blatantly disregard their applicants’ test scores. So, for example, if a student somehow managed to take his/her exams and submits it to a “test blind” college, the admissions office will simply ignore it. Some prestigious universities which operate under the “test blind” system include Caltech, Duke University and Northwestern University.


“Test optional”, as its name implies, refers to a system where students may choose whether or not to submit their test results. So, if a student manages to take his/her test, he/she may choose to include it as part of the college application and the college is obliged to consider it. However, should a student fail to take his/her exam, he/she does not need to submit test scores. Colleges that implement “test optional” policy include Davidson College and University of Oregon.


Holistic Review vs. Clear Standards

Prior to the pandemic, various colleges and universities already emphasized that all college applications submitted by students will undergo a “holistic review” conducted by admissions counsellors. “Holistic review” refers to a system of reviewing a candidate’s application where no one single criterion is given extra weightage compared to others.


So, when a counsellor performs a “holistic review” of your application, he/she will consider both objective and subjective indication of your qualities as a student; objective aspects of your college application include test grades, class rank and any other academic achievements while the subjective aspects refer to everything else, such as your extracurriculars.


Furthermore, if a student chooses to apply to a “test optional” college and enters his/her test scores into the application, even if he/she opts for the scores to be disregarded, the admissions office will still be able to view it. This is because admissions officers cannot choose which part of a student’s application to view, thus, they can usually access the test scores of a student, even if they were instructed to disregard the same. Hence, it would be more realistic to assume that if you do enter your test scores into your application, admissions officers will take that into account and it will impact your chances of acceptance accordingly.


Rankings Complicate Matters

The concept of “test optional” appears to be the most feasible response to the current situation, where colleges are prepared to take a more subjective stance on applications, as opposed to their pre-pandemic method of evaluation by using objective test scores (e.g., SATs or ACTs).


Although it might seem like many colleges who are implementing “test optional” policies are readily conducting “holistic reviews” on their candidates’ applications, some other sources suggest otherwise.


For this instance, no college ranking organizations have released any public statements in response on how they will accommodate each college’s ranking with regards to the recent implementation of “test optional” policies. Thus, it is safe to assume that the ranking organizations will still be using accepted students’ average test scores.

Hence, it is also probably the case that most colleges, incentivized by being a high-ranked college, will consider test scores when reviewing students’ applications. In conclusion, it is most likely the case that colleges, even those who claim to operate under “test optional” system, will be incorporating test scores as part of the evaluation process to determine whether or not a student will be accepted.


Need Help with College Applications?

The fact that most universities have gone test-optional points to one singular fact: with admissions becoming increasingly competitive, early mentorship is key to a successful application. We offer a highly personalized one-to-one mentorship programme to students in Grade 8-12 by working with a select cohort of 10 students per grade. Our purpose with is to select a miniscule cohort of applicants, give them an individualised experience, and help them develop a distinctive, powerful profile for college applications.

Since our intake is limited, please drop us a message on WhatsApp (‭+91 96194 58430‬) or email (info@ivieschaseyou.com) to inquire about our availibility for your child. Our engagement officer will then guide you forward with the process.

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