Selective College Admissions: What You Should Know About Test Optional

Selective College Admissions: What You Should Know About Test Optional

04 May, 2021

The topic of test optional is everywhere in college admissions conversations these days. Because it seems like everything you knew about admissions is changing, it can be hard to know whether you are giving yourself or your student their best opportunity to succeed. Yet with change come both challenges and opportunities; Noodle Pros can help you decode the mysteries of the potentially permanent transition to a test optional application process.

The History Behind the SAT & the ACT

The origins of standardized testing are often overlooked. Most students know only that “bubble tests” have been an unavoidable part of selective college admissions — that is, until recently.

Admissions testing first came into use in the 1870s, when colleges developed their own tests meant to measure students’ college readiness. Although this practice now seems like a societal standard, the SAT was not created and adopted regionally until 1926, when The College Board first created and administered the prototype of the test we know today. The SAT had the market to itself until 1959, when E. F. Lindquist developed the ACT as a competitor and alternative.

While the SAT and ACT feature many similarities, they can appeal to different students for different reasons. In any case, the intent behind these two tests is to evaluate how well a student executes rapid verbal and mathematical reasoning.

The idea of test optional admissions is not new. Among selective colleges, the concept has been around for over fifty years, since Bowdoin College first offered this option to applicants. In the past decade or so especially, the idea had been gaining gradual acceptance. However, it wasn’t until the recent pandemic that test optional became increasingly popular and widely implemented. With a lack of safe and available testing centers and with schools resorting to distance learning, many colleges knew their only option was to make standardized testing just that: an option.

The Future of Standardized Testing in Selective College Admissions

Research shows high school academic performance to be more accurately predictive of college performance than standardized test results alone. Yet grades plus test scores are slightly better than transcripts alone. As a result and in response to the pandemic, different schools are handling admissions in different ways, and all are awaiting the long-term outcomes to determine permanent policies.

For some schools, test optional will be a permanent policy.

  • Many colleges (primarily private ones) have already announced that test optional is their new standard for admissions and are accepting applications without standardized test scores.
  • While some schools had already moved toward test optional prior to 2020, more schools are using this time as a probationary period, trying out test optional for a few years while they analyze the benefits and disadvantages of not requiring test scores in applications. Test optional policies will be re-evaluated after a few years.

For many schools, test optional will mean one less data point for applicants. When schools no longer require standardized testing, it’s not because test scores aren’t valuable, but rather because GPA is considered more predictive of future performance. Without test scores, admissions committees rely more heavily on transcripts, recommendations, extracurriculars, and application essays. For students who don’t tend to test well or don’t feel their test scores reflect their capabilities, this option can be a way to show their strengths in other areas. For those who feel that their scores are or can be strong, it may be wise to include test scores in their applications.

The Half-Truths of Going Test Optional

  1. Test optional means my scores don’t matter.
    Although test optional is becoming increasingly popular, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to college applications today. Just as certain colleges require higher standards for admissions, the same goes for standardized testing. Omitting test scores won’t eliminate you as a candidate, and it may even help you if your scores aren’t or wouldn’t be strong. That said, a great academic transcript paired with high test scores is never a negative in the eyes of an admissions committee. Giving yourself as many positive data points as possible will work in your favor, especially when applying to more selective colleges.
  2. Test scores may still be required even though they aren’t required.
    Although many schools are not requiring SAT/ACT scores for admission, it may be wise to include them. While you will still be considered regardless, sending in your test scores can qualify you for academic and merit-based scholarships at many schools. Because standards vary from school to school, it is important to be aware of the nuances of each school of interest in case a particular college has not yet moved to test optional or has a more competitive admission rate.

Myth: I’m Wasting My Time Testing

This is rarely the case. It never hurts to have a positive data point in your application, and impressive scores should always be included, especially if your list of colleges is ambitious.

Because test optional has seemingly opened up the playing field, selective colleges have seen a huge influx of applicants, causing admissions rates to fall to all-time lows. If you can score high, you will likely want to share those scores with increasingly choosy admissions committees. College admissions are still highly competitive, so any positive attributes should be included in your application package to increase your chances.

What Does Test Optional Mean for Me?

Just because testing is optional does not mean that it should be immediately taken off your table. Considering the competitiveness and exclusivity of these colleges today, everything you can do to stand out should be done. Although testing well won’t automatically get you admitted, it could be what sets you apart from an otherwise comparable applicant.

If you feel you could have done better on the SAT or ACT, having an impressive GPA and transcripts will show that you are qualified and capable of excelling at the school of your choosing.

And if you are exceptional in both arenas? Your chance of being accepted is that much better.

How Noodle Pros Can Help

The freedom to go test optional has opened doors for many while instilling confusion in others. Take a deep breath and relax; we are here to guide you.

Your application strategy should be particular not only to each school but also to your strengths and weaknesses. Consider carefully how testing fits into your personal application strategy.

Noodle Pros tutors bring decades of experience in various academic and test prep subjects. On the academic side, we can help you maintain and improve your current grades. More importantly, our expert tutors can help you enjoy what you’re learning and understand it more deeply. We will assess your skills, then we customize a personalized learning experience to accommodate your learning style and optimize your outcome. Even if you aren’t where you want to be academically, we can get you there.

On the testing side, we are well-versed in results-based strategies. With Noodle Pros, you will see a significant increase in your test scores, because our tutors can diagnose and address challenging issues efficiently. We know the nuances of standardized testing, and have trained as educators and written test prep materials ourselves. Most Noodle Pros tutors also graduated at or near the top of their elite college and university classes.

At a time when standards are changing, we can take the guesswork out of college admissions. Let Noodle Pros provide the premium tutoring you need to achieve your admissions goals.

To Review:

  1. Under test optional admissions, it is up to you whether to take tests and/or submit scores. That said, your test scores could be an advantage that sets you apart in an increasingly competitive climate.
  2. If you don’t submit a standardized test score, your application will still include your GPA, essay, recommendations, and application form. Think carefully about whether a score will enhance the committee’s view of your potential.
  3. If you take a standardized test and don’t like your score, you can take it again to improve it. You can prepare as much as you want, and you can take the tests as often as you like.

Go to to connect with a results-oriented tutor and get personalized 1:1 instruction.

AdmissionsK-12Must ReadsNewsNoodle Picks
About the Author

Standardized exam on the horizon? Thinking about supplemental academic tutoring? Our Education Specialists can help navigate you towards success with a free 1:1 consult.

Noodle Pros tutors are full-time test prep and academic tutors with no less than seven years of experience. Qualifying to become a Pro is no easy task, and we take qualifying tutors seriously. Schedule a meeting below, and we will send an email to prepare you for your consultation. We’ll only call you that day. And no, we won’t share your info with anyone else unless you ask us to.

Use the calendar below to schedule a free 30-minute call.