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Is Test Optional Really Test Optional?

Note: this is an opinionated piece

By Meredith Baccine

Months upon months are spent by students preparing for arguably the most important tests of their lives; the SAT and ACT. Throughout the 21st century more and more pressure has been placed on students to excel on these tests, and the message that a good test score is their ticket to being accepted into a good college has been engraved in their brains.

In the past year, because of challenges faced by the Coronavirus, many colleges have not required these stressful tests, and the new ‘test optional’ policy could be a game changer. But does test optional really mean the test is optional?

For 2020-2021 applicants, many colleges presented a test optional policy. All the Ivy League schools adapted this idea, along with Pitzer College, New York University, George Washington University, Colorado College, Ithaca College, and many others. These schools claimed they would not hold not having test scores against a student, but would also look at a student’s test scores if they were to submit them.

“If one kid has great test scores and one kid has no test scores, all else being equal, the kid with great test scores will win every time over the kid with no test scores.” said Brian Taylor, a manager of Ivy Coach. Regardless of the colleges’ policy, it is unavoidable that if all else was the same besides one student having test scores, the college would admit the student with the high test score.

Furthermore, Taylor also urged students to take any measure necessary to take the SAT or ACT to have something to submit, because it will give them the leg up against students who were unable to submit test scores.

The Coronavirus expedited the movement to get rid of test scores being a part of the application process, but the idea has been circulating for years. Concerns have mounted about how much value is put into one test score, and how unfair using that one score is to decide who is admitted into college is, especially due to the difference in access to education across the country.

President of One-Stop College Counseling and 1986 Wharton graduate Laurie Kopp Weingarten said, “Some high schools have chosen to administer their own SAT or ACT exams this year.” However, she was stressed that private high schools offer these tests much more than public schools.

The only way for this ‘test optional’ policy to be fair and succeed in colleges is if each college either decides to accept the test scores or decides to not accept them all together. Some Cornell undergrad schools have already adopted the policy that they will not accept any test scores, which gives all applicants an equal opportunity to get in.

Other schools plan to use this policy in the long run, and Tufts already announced a three year plan to be test optional. Schools who currently have the policy have stated they will ‘re-evaluate’ the situation after Covid is completely under control, and many may choose to join Tufts in keeping the optional rule.

So does test optional really mean test optional? When thinking about it logically, having an impressive ACT or SAT score will always put you above a student who did not submit a test score. What it really comes down to is how badly you want to get into a certain school or what access you have to taking the tests.

When accepting students into college, applications should really be compared based on pure merit, intellect, and hard-work. Moving away from standardized tests may be a positive thing for students in the future, but for now students have to make the choice whether to go the extra mile or hope the colleges really do turn a blind eye to test scores.


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