Test Optional, Test Flexible, and Test Blind Explained!

It seems like nowadays every other word we hear regarding college is, test optional, test flexible, and test blind. There are thousands of schools this year going test optional due to COVID-19, which is great for the many students that have been unable to take the test. But what exactly do these terms mean?

Test optional:
A college or university is not requiring students to submit SAT or ACT scores for admissions. One thing to note: each school’s test optional policy is different. So even though the definition of the term seems simple, it may vary from school to school.

Students always ask me, “Well what do I do, should I even send my scores?” This is the kind of situation where those schools are looking at the SAT as any other extracurricular. For example, if you’re varsity captain on the soccer team, or you’re really great at debate, or DECA, you definitely want to add that to your resume. So, if you’re a great test taker and your test scores are above the threshold, then the answer is yes, submit your scores because they’re going to benefit you.

Now on the other hand, if your scores are subpar, you might not want to send those scores. If you’re below the 50th percentile, under a test optional scenario, I don’t recommend sending your scores because they may not benefit your application.

Test flexible:
This is a policy where the colleges will accept test scores other than the SAT or ACT, so scores like AP exams, IB, and sometimes SAT Subject Tests. They’re flexible in which tests they will take, however they do want you to show some proficiency in testing. This gives you, the student, more of a choice and power in the process.

Test blind:
This is definitely the most rigid; schools will not look at any test scores. You cannot send them in whatsoever. As opposed to test optional, where you can send them in but you don’t have to. With test blind, schools will not accept any scores at all. There’s just a handful of schools that are going test blind, such as the University of California system in several years.

These policies have a lot of caveats. If you’re looking at these terms and saying this is an opportunity for me to just ditch testing altogether, that’s probably not the best decision. If you’re applying to a combination of schools, there’s a high chance you still need the tests for some of those applications.

If you’re not submitting a test score, other parts of your application are going to be more heavily scrutinized such as GPA and extracurriculars. You’re going to need to add something else to your application to show that proficiency. Spend the time that you would typically spend preparing for the exams, on other activities such as extracurriculars, studying for class, etc. It’s not expected that the SAT is gone and suddenly nothing else needs to be quality. That’s one of the big misconceptions I wanted to clear up for you.

Other reasons you would need the SAT or ACT:

  1. If you’re an international student most of this doesn’t apply
  2. If you are an out-of-state student, typically schools want to see standardized test scores. That’s something that the UC system addressed: it is only test blind or test optional for students that live in California
  3. Many scholarships are tied to testing. So if you’re looking for a scholarship you’re going to need to achieve certain test scores.
  4. If you’re an NCAA athlete you’ll have to submit an SAT score in order to be eligible. That may change, but right now it’s still the case.
  5. Placement: If you want to place out of English 101, Math 101, or basic level classes, a lot of schools give their own placement test. That’s something that you want to do- if the SAT or ACT will help you place out of certain classes, you want to skip those classes because you’ll get to higher-level, more interesting classes and advance your degree more quickly.

What’s the reason for test optional policies? Schools want to find those students that are diamond-in-the-rough. I work with hundreds of students and meet thousands of students right through Nick the Tutor and I know many people complain, “I’m a great student, I’m a ninety nine average guy or gal, why should I be held down by my lower SAT score?”

That’s a valid point, so those students benefit greatly from test optional policies. That’s the student that would want to consider tests optional if they feel like their GPA and scholastic ability just doesn’t match up with their SAT or ACT score.

The Catch:
These policies also benefit colleges. When a school engages in a test optional policy, they are going to receive more applicants, and when the college gets more applicants, then they’ll be able to maintain a lower acceptance rate. So more applicants, less acceptances means more money for the college and an attractive, lower acceptance rate which benefits the college in the US News and World Report rankings. So unfortunately, test optional isn’t only about benefiting the students but also greatly benefits colleges as well. Colleges are also going to have a decrease in low test scores. There’s plenty of students that colleges think are exceptional and that they would love to accept without the SAT or the ACT, such as that 99 average student that submits their test score that’s below the college’s average. They’re able to remove all of those from their test scores, therefore raising their average test scores in the eyes of the US News & World Report. Now that’s a little bit disingenuous if you think about it because they’re artificially inflating their test scores, exploiting a test optional policy that, in theory, is meant to benefit students.

So what does all this mean? Basically there’s two tracks of college admissions right now. We have the test optional track and we have the test sender track. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the greatest thing right to have non test senders and test senders because that’s kind of splitting people up, while we want everyone to be on an even playing field. Having these two tracks is a little bit problematic, but schools will eventually work that out. Right now, what I would say to cover all of your bases, you probably want to take the SAT or the ACT. If it’s not good, you don’t send it if it is good, you do. You at least want to give it a shot.