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Last Updated On: November 5th, 2022

Since the pandemic, many schools have reconsidered their requirements for the ACT/SAT tests. There is some indication that this reevaluation goes deeper than COVID and consideration for students that are unable to test or unwilling to test in the format that is available for them. For this reason, it is useful to think about what a test-optional situation means for a college applicant.

Standardized testing has been an ongoing debate in education for a long time and often seems to be a trendy thing to disparage. There are some very important reasons for standardized testing, however, and any consideration of removing a test requirement needs to address the hole that is left behind. To get insight into college admissions testing, you need to consider the reason behind the test from the point of view of colleges. There are a few motivations that you will want to consider if you are looking to go test-free.

Two reasons that colleges use standardized tests are:

1) Comparing students from different educational backgrounds in a consistent way.
2) Looking for skills that are useful to successful college students

If you are looking to go test-free, you will need to meet college’s needs for these two factors. Colleges that are removing the requirement for a standardized test completely will still need to identify a student’s preparedness and suitability, so your opportunities to show these will show up in the other parts of your application packet. If you are applying for a college that is test-optional and are choosing not to submit test scores, you will want to make sure that your strengths are highlighted and can stand up to extra scrutiny.

Extra scrutiny? Why?

In addition to having fewer measures of the student, admissions departments are tasked with identifying the abilities of the student by themselves. A challenge to college admissions departments is to sort through what amount of the student’s work is really theirs. A standardized test that is tightly regulated allows colleges to see work that was not completed by a parent, tutor, or professional. This challenge is important to colleges in a few ways.

A student will be at college, not the parent, tutor, or professional. Even though another’s help can get a student into school, colleges want students who will be successful at their schools. A student who is admitted on another’s work has a higher tendency to be frustrated as they are exposed to material that is beyond their current capacity. This frustration can lead to student unhappiness, poor grades, and a higher rate of non-completion.

Additionally, colleges need to consider their ethical responsibility to disadvantaged students, who have the capability and dedication, but have not had the opportunities to obtain extra support. Not all families have the same expertise or availability for assistance in academics. Additionally, not all families have access to professional assistance in courses and application preparation.

As a result of these concerns, colleges without standardized tests are going to be particularly vigilant in searching for a student’s own work, abilities, and skills. Knowing this allows you to prepare fully.

Let’s break down some common parts of the application process and how you can make use of them to show your qualification for acceptance

Application: Colleges that are removing standardized test scores completely will give more attention to the application and will be furthermore looking more carefully at how the application represents the student.

  • It is very possible for a student to submit an application, complete with personal statements or other essays, without having put anything of their own work forward, and colleges know this. For this reason, an applicant will want to be vigilant that all parts of the application reflect their voice. This does not mean that you can’t get help with your application, in fact working with a tutor or mentor on application writings can be a great learning experience to prepare you for writing in college and beyond, but make sure that it is your voice consistently coming through.
  • Show off some of the skills that colleges are looking for in their prepared students. Use research skills to show that you can support your desire to attend with detail like references to your particular college’s courses, mission statement, and clubs. Use academic excellence by making sure that your writing reflects creativity, critical thinking, and flawless composition and execution – proofreading for grammar, spelling, and proper formatting using a reliable resource is vital!

Interview: Interviews in a time without standardized tests are a great time to show your suitability for college level work.

  • If your college of interest does not have any other time where they know they are seeing your work, they will be looking for consistency in your interview. You can also reference your application material in a knowledgeable way so that the school has increased confidence in the fact that it is your work.
  • You can emphasize your skills that show you to be ready for college during this time. Show up to your interview prepared. Be ready for common interview questions. Use the time that you are not spending on test prep to work with a tutor or mentor on interview comfort and technique. Mention aspects of the school that particularly impress you so that the interviewer can see your dedication, interest, and research skills. Impress your interviewer with your confidence and communication ability.
  • If you are not submitting test scores, your interview may be your best possible time to impress the school with how fantastic you are. Prepare to bring up topics that make you shine. Think of ways to discuss the highlights of your application to add details and depth, whether that is your ambitious course load, your service experiences, your creative accomplishments, or another aspect that makes you shine.

Extracurriculars: The extracurricular activities that you submit to your college as part of your application can show your interests and suggest skills that you have earned. Without a standardized test score, colleges will be searching for information on who you are as a potential new student. Extracurriculars can help strengthen their view on your quality.

  • Developing an extracurricular history that shows a development of your personalized interests supports the integrity of your application and your skill of identifying and pursuing your interests. Many applicants fluff their extracurriculars, so make sure that you can support and discuss any listings that you make in this section, particularly if you are applying at a test-optional or test-blind school.
  • If your extracurricular history is limited in subject, you can build on the depth and variety of experiences that you had within your subject. If all of your extracurricular activities center on one topic, you will want to focus on showing the diversity within that topic and the dedication that you have shown to that passion.
  • If your extracurricular history is diverse, but does not have any long-term dedication, you can use it as an example of your ability to explore your options in search of the best fit and you can emphasize what you have learned from each of the activities that you no longer pursue. Your educational time is meant to be a time of exploration, so share the value of the exploration that you have done.
  • If your extracurricular resume is limited in official activities, emphasize the unofficial activities that you have pursued. If you cared for family or developed other skills, make sure that these appear in your application documents and interview conversation.

Transcript: Transcripts present many challenges for colleges to navigate.

  • Transcripts do not easily allow for comparing students from different educational backgrounds in a consistent way. They can give general ideas of rigor and success, but different schools have different grading systems, resulting in GPA being a rough tool for colleges to use. Grade concerns include cheating, grade inflation, differences in school and student resources, and schools that do not assign grades at all.
  • A standardized test puts all students in the same situation at least during the test period, so without this resource you will want to show that your grades were a result of academic excellence in ambitious, but rationally selected, classes.
  • To strengthen your transcript, make sure that material from your coursework is fresh in your mind. Integrate experiences that highlight the quality of your coursework into your application materials, including your interview. Take some time to remember some of the class activities that emphasized your critical thinking, creativity, and other skills so that you can draw attention to them.

Remember that standardized test scores are never used as the only determining factor for an application package. Schools have always considered a variety of factors in their selection process, and the importance of that variety has been on an increase. By knowing the value of standardized tests, you can highlight the skills that would have been tested in your application materials and successfully show your college of interest why you are easily an outstanding candidate for their incoming freshman class!

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