In a rapidly changing test-optional landscape, how important is it for your teen to submit their SAT or ACT score? We asked the experts for answers to your biggest questions.
What’s the case for and against submitting SAT or ACT scores if a college is test-optional?
Not surprisingly, experts advise students who are strong test-takers to study for either test with the goal of submitting their score, especially if their GPA isn’t where they’d like it to be. Students who aren’t strong test takers may want to consider investing their time elsewhere. “I frequently see students take the SAT whose time would be better spent on academics or extracurriculars,” says Robert Powers, a college consultant and founder of collegetorch.com.
Will students be at a disadvantage if they don’t submit a test score?
The answer depends on the schools your teen is considering. A majority of colleges are test optional, but not all, says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, a private college counselor and president of One-Stop College Counseling in Marlboro. For example, public universities in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee require test scores. MIT, Purdue and Georgetown also ask for them.
Some colleges are test blind, also known as test free, which means they won’t consider any scores. If a college says it’s test optional, admission officers generally emphasize that they mean it, Weingarten says. If your teen is applying to a test-optional school, they should only submit a score if it’s in line with scores of accepted students at that college, she says.
If your teen is applying to a highly selective college, submitting a strong test score is pretty much a given. “With the inconsistencies in how grading is done across the United States, test scores give a standardized measure of student readiness for university work,” says Brian W. Stewart, author of Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium, 2024.
Bottom line: Study and take the test once, twice or three times max before deciding where it makes sense to send your scores.
Is test-optional making it more challenging to submit scores knowing that, in many cases, only students who score exceptionally high submit?
This is a challenge that won’t be going away anytime soon. “If every year students are submitting scores in the top 50th percentile of their target school’s accepted class, the 50th percentile will continue to get higher and higher,” says Pranoy Mohapatra, founder and director of PMTutoring LLC in Old Bridge and founder and board member of the National Test Prep Association. “At some point, this is unsustainable.”
Interestingly, rising test scores may also help students who aren’t strong test takers. “With many students not proactively studying for standardized tests, there is a significant opportunity for standing out,” says Allen Koh, founder of Cardinal Education, an educational consulting company that offers private school admissions consulting and college counseling. That means students who struggle with the SAT and ACT can feel good about focusing elsewhere, from extracurriculars and community service to taking more rigorous classes and boosting their GPA.
If your teen wants to improve their SAT or ACT score, taking lots of practice tests makes all the difference. “The SAT is coachable, and most students can achieve a great score when they learn the content, strategy, time management and embody a positive mindset,” says Bara Sapir, founder of citytestprep.com and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Test Prep Association. “And practice. It always requires a lot of practice.”