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Does test optional really mean test optional?

A Look into the Current Standardized Testing Policies for US Admissions

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the daily lives of people all over the world, and with the United States being one of the hardest hit countries, it was no surprise when most of the Spring and Summer SAT test dates were cancelled. As the pandemic continues, the College Board announced last month that more than half of the 334,000 students who were registered for a September 26 test session were unable to write due to pandemic restrictions. The ACT, another college admission standardized test, has encountered similar issues.

Although some test centers are operating, registration is limited and the students who have been successful in securing a seat have often needed to travel 2-4 hours away.

COVID-19 has created uncertainty – and even more anxiety in an already stressful process – about university admission in the US, including the role of standardized testing.

While the test-optional movement has been making headway over the years, COVID-19 has led to more than 1,450 colleges and universities announcing that they are moving to a test-optional policy, and more are following suit. But despite most American colleges and universities responding in this way, students and families are hesitant to believe that test-optional really means optional.

Do I need to write the SAT or ACT?

The National Association of College Admission Counselling (NACAC) has been working with colleges and universities to “affirm that they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score” and have publicised a list of schools who have pledged to use “a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any students without a test score.” Meadowridge School’s Post-Secondary Counselling Department has spent the Fall confirming new admissions processes through many, many Zoom calls with university admissions officers and are hearing the same message.

In this case, test-optional really does mean optional.

Admissions officers are also stating they do not think it is reasonable for students to be travelling hours away, often needing to book a hotel, to write a test. While inequity in standardized testing has long been studied and documented, colleges and universities also recognize that testing during a pandemic may demonstrate a further gap, especially if it involves the need to test in another location.

While [a test] can present another opportunity for a student to showcase their skills, students’ wellness should be the main concern. 

While some schools have chosen to go test-flexible rather than test-optional, the message remains the same: Colleges do not want students to risk their health and safety or the health and safety of others in order to write a test.

Knowing that “optional means opportunity”, there is a growing list of schools, including California Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley, who have gone as far as to say that they are becoming test-blind. Meaning, these colleges will not look at or consider any standardized test scores submitted by an applicant.

Test Required
Standardized test scores are required as an admission requirement

Test Flexible
An SAT/ACT may not be required if submitting other college level exams (ex. IB)

Test Optional
Students have the power to decide if they would like to pursue standardized testing and if they would declare their test score in their application

Test Blind
Will not consider standardized test scores in admission


While most of the standardized test conversation has been focused on the Class of 2021, many institutions are now expanding their polices for the Class of 2022 based on the pandemic being on-going. Others are making the change permanent.

The Post-Secondary Counsellors at Meadowridge School would like to encourage families to do their research and connect with admissions officers about their school’s changing policies before they dive into standardized test preparation. While it can present another opportunity for a student to showcase their skills, students’ wellness should be the main concern. Additionally, as a student’s IB scores will be the heaviest weighted factor in their application, they may be better served redirecting that energy into the courses they are taking at school. In the world of college admissions where optional means opportunity, this new trend in standardized testing allows students the opportunity to redirect their energy into something already on their plate.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Brianna Just is in her fifth year working at Meadowridge School and is currently the Head of the Post-Secondary Counselling Department. She holds professional memberships with the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), International Association of College Admissions Counseling (IACAC), Canadian Independent School Counsellors (CISC), and British Columbia’s Academic Advisors Consortium (AAC). Additionally, she has also completed University of California, Los Angeles’ College Counseling Certificate program.