• 12 Jan, 2022

What does Test-optional mean? Why taking tests during ‘test optional’ era can help and not hurt!

Before suggesting recommendations to prospective applicants and their parents about test choices, it is worth sharing the terms that have been introduced by college and university admission offices.

  • Test Required: ACT/SAT are required to be submitted with the application.
  • Test Optional: ACT/SAT are not required with the application, but if scores are submitted, they will be looked at.
  • Test Blind: ACT/SAT scores will not be looked at if submitted.
  • Test Flexible: Students may substitute SAT/ACT with other tests such as single subject, AP, IB scores.


In the US test optional movement started back in 2001 as a result of several studies that came to prove high school grades as being best indicator of college performance. Since then, several colleges in the US have been implementing test optional policies and sharing their data on the results. Among many findings presented by various liberal art colleges there was one that stood out and affected further developments. Test grades did not correlate with students’ college performance and success. Rather there was a strong correlation between students’ higher test scores and financial means of their families.

Though the movement has been growing in the last decade, but the practices truly took off only in the last year as one impact of the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated the process of test optional policy for many colleges and universities countrywide. For the first time ever applicants to top-tier schools, including Ivy Leagues, were not required to submit SAT or ACT scores for the class of 2024, which later was extended through 2026.


The wider introduction on test-optional policy has had a major impact on the college admissions process both for the applicants and the schools, primarily resulting in:

  • a heavier reliance on high school transcripts and GPA, expecting students to invest more time and efforts in the high school;
  • overall increase of application numbers, and consequently higher selectivity by the schools and decrease of acceptance rates;
  • overall increase of average ACT/SAT scores, as only students with higher scores would report it.


According to recent data shared by The Hoya, the largest student newspaper of the Georgetown University, the application rate for the class of 2025 in the respective university has increased by 30% in comparison to the previous year, while 90% of admitted students had voluntarily submitted test results.

Cornell's Class of 2025 profile data reports 60.5% of accepted students not submitting test-scores, alongside with 30% of increase in applications.

The most recent statistics shared by the College Board shows increase of the share of applicants reporting test scores to Common App by 4 % from 2020-21 to 2021-2022. The report also notes that it could "indicate that applicants are adjusting their application strategies as test-optional policies become more familiar."

California State University system, which educates 486,000 students on 23 campuses and is the largest four-year public university system in the US, has approved the recommendation to permanently end the testing requirements by the systemwide Admission Advisory Council. "If trustees vote to eliminate the SAT and ACT requirement, test scores would not be used in admissions decisions at all, even if submitted", said Cal State spokeswoman Toni Molle.

Conclusion and recommendations

The wider introduction on test-optional policy has had a major impact on the college admissions process both for the applicants and the schools, primarily resulting in:

  • Although test optional policies reduced barriers to applying, they also increased the number of applications and the selectivity.
  • High-tier colleges went test optional during Covid-19, yet they still favor students who have strong test scores over those who have none.
  • Decision to go test-optional should be backed by other components of the application (grades, essays, extracurricular activities, interviews) that can help the applicant to stand out.
  • Test optional, test flexible, and test blind policies vary from college to college. College websites and admission officers can spread light on specific requirements and help with your decision.
  • Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences, including specific programs and majors, individual academic records, academic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Under Common App policies it is allowed to send scores to some schools while abstain from sending them to others, which gives applicants a great flexibility in score reporting.
  • "Holistic" admission process currently adopted by many colleges and universities tends to look at the whole applicant placing tremendous emphasis on high school academic achievement and less on a record of a standardized test.