What ‘Test Optional’ Really Means: A Guide To Taking The ACT Or The SAT

What ‘Test Optional’ Really Means: A Guide To Taking The ACT Or The SAT

One of the biggest things to happen to the academic world this last year was the announcement by many prominent universities to make submission of an ACT or SAT score optional. For many students and parents, this made the admissions process a bit confusing. What does ‘test-optional mean, and would this help or hurt a student’s admission chances? Let’s examine the changing landscape and break down what the testing part of the admissions process may look like for the next few years. 

ACT versus SAT: Which is better? 

Although often spoken of interchangeably, the ACT and the SAT are substantially different exams. Very often, students find they do better on one exam than the other. Students and parents must learn about the differences between the exams to prepare for taking the test more efficiently. The SAT has two central portions: vocabulary and mathematics. It is three hours long, and there is one portion of the math test that students must do without a calculator. The ACT offers vocabulary and mathematics sections and a science section designed to test the student’s critical thinking skills. Students may use a calculator in all the mathematics sections and can also choose to submit an optional essay.

Are the tests still relevant? 

Many universities decided to suspend requiring an ACT or SAT score from incoming students this past year and for the next several years. Some schools plan to reinstate requiring the test in 2024, and others may continue their test-optional policy. Many students wondered if they should even prep for a test that schools no longer required. There is a case for encouraging students to continue to prepare for either the ACT or the SAT, and here’s why: 

  • Many states still require high school students to take the SATs or ACTs as a benchmark for graduation. 
  • In the admissions process, standing out is critical. If other incoming students have not taken one of the tests, but your student has, that could be a deciding factor. 
  • Test scores are currently trending lower. Students who participate in test prep are likely to score higher than their peers. 

Test prep is a gift that keeps giving 

Parents and students often invest in test prep hoping to learn skills for the SAT or ACT but come away with actionable skills that prepare the student for more effective studying and more confident test-taking well into college. Groza Learning Center offers an award-winning Test Preparation service that goes well beyond the goal of a higher exam score. The right test prep should guide students to develop healthy time-management skills as they set and achieve goals. Groza’s Test Prep coaches students to stock their test-taking toolbox with practical study skills, more efficient executive functioning, and the ability to self-focus.

A robust test prep course like that offered by Groza Learning Center is an investment in the student that goes well beyond the ACT or SAT. Students master skills that can apply in other areas, such as AP exams. These skills also lead to greater success in college and well beyond. To learn more about how Groza Academy’s Test Prep can help build confidence and vital skills, schedule a consultation to discuss your individual needs.

How are the Top 20 Nationwide Universities Responding to COVID-19?

Test Optional Universities


Recently, the College Board announced that they will not be administering at home SAT exams for the 2020-2021 school year. In addition, due to COVID-19 the capacity for in person examinations has been extremely limited.  These factors will prevent thousands of students from taking the SAT exam. Furthermore, the at home ACT testing option will not be available until late fall or early winter.

In light of this, FairTest.org is reporting that nearly half of all four year universities in the US, including the top 20, have gone test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Of these top 20 universities, some have stated that they will be test optional for only the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, while others, such as California Institute of Technology, have stated that they will be test optional for a two year period.  Although students are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores, many schools, including Columbia University, strongly suggest submitting them as it can be a valuable addition to a student’s application.

Test Optional vs. Test Flexible vs. Test Blind:

Even with universities going test optional, there are still three categories in which a school can fall under. The first is a test optional college, where students decide on whether or not they want to submit test scores with their application.  The majority of test optional colleges will consider SAT or ACT scores, but will focus on a student’s essays, GPA, and recommendations. The second type is a test flexible college, which allows students to submit other standardized tests in place of the SAT or ACT.  For example, Advanced Placement tests and SAT Subject Tests. Lastly, the third category is a test blind college. These colleges will not consider test scores, even if students submit them.

Test-optional schools:

– Brown University

– Columbia University

– Cornell University

– Dartmouth University

– Duke University

– Harvard University

– John Hopkins University

– Massachusetts Institute of Technology

– Northwestern University

– Princeton University

– Rice University

– Stanford University

– University of California Los Angeles

– University of Chicago

– University of Notre Dame

– University of Pennsylvania

– Vanderbilt University

– Washington University in St. Louis

– Yale University

Test-Blind Schools:

– California Institute of Technology

In place of the SAT or ACT, college admissions will be based on:

– Ability to handle challenging courses throughout high school;

– Commitment and effort in pursuing other challenging learning experiences;

– Community involvement;

– Extracurriculars (clubs, sports, activities outside of school);

– Letter of Recommendation from a teacher in a specific field (for example, a math teacher for students interested in STEM);

– Other standardized tests (AP, SAT Subject, state exams)

In conclusion, many universities have acknowledged that students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to COVID-19 will not be disadvantaged in the application process.

For more information about the College Admissions Process and SAT or ACT Test Prep
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