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Should I still submit the ACT or SAT if a college is test-optional?

by Jennifer Johnson,

Students studying

For more than half a century, an ACT or SAT score was an absolute necessity — colleges not only required it, the score could make or break a student’s admissibility. 

But now that more than 73% of bachelor-degree granting institutions are test-optional, questions from parents and students remain. Are tests really optional? If students don’t take a standardized test, will they appear as if they’re covering up a weak score? Will the college assume they’re poor test-takers? 

Parents and students alike should trust that test-optional is truly a choice. Student success can be measured in multiple ways, and testing alone can’t predict future potential. 

An in-depth study conducted by Willamette faculty in 2016 found almost no correlation between high test scores and success at the university, and Willamette has been test-optional ever since, said Dean of Admission Sue Corner

The decision means more deserving and prepared students have access to an education. If a student chooses to submit test scores, it can only help them — the scores will never count against their admission or aid decision, she said. 

“Our faculty studied the impact of the SAT and ACT on success, and it helped us feel very confident that we shouldn’t be making decisions about preparedness based on those scores,” she said. “The strongest correlation to success is day-to-day performance in a classroom environment, and that’s what we focus on.” 

Admission counselors now consider test scores as simply another credential that gives additional context and depth to your Common Application. Some students provide a resume or an extra letter of recommendation, some use the “additional information” section of the application, and some provide test scores — all of these choices are optional. If a student shines on standardized tests, they should feel free to submit the scores but not feel obligated to, she said. 

The same philosophy applies to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. When Willamette admission counselors notice several of these classes on a transcript, the thing that matters most is not how well students did on the test, but that they sought to challenge themselves and performed well in the class, said Corner. 

“Some students might wonder if it’s even worth taking the class if the test results aren’t necessary, but it’s of enormous value to you in your preparation for college,” she said. “The test piece of it is far less important.”  

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