university building in fall

Test-Optional College Admissions

Friday, November 12, 2021

By Janet Thibeau

SAT form

The Standardized Achievement Test (SAT) was created in 1926 as an intelligence test to help colleges and universities assess applicants. 

The test was adapted from an IQ test for army recruits and adopted by Harvard College to test the "scholastic aptitude" of admissions applicants from outside the normal channels to Harvard at the time. The history and validity of the SAT provokes a rich debate, but educators and parents of students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) are very familiar with the mismatch between our students and test scores, especially those that purport to measure intelligence.

Over the years, the test itself has changed and created a booming test-prep industry that exceeds $4 billion. 

What do standardized tests really measure?

Do standardized tests accurately measure a student’s potential? It depends on who you ask. 

For students who naturally do well on standardized tests, a good test score can be one of many strengths in their application, or it can help offset poor grades. For students who can afford to pay for private tutors, they may be able to improve their score and become a more attractive candidate at competitive colleges. 

What about students with dyslexia and other learning differences who don’t do well on standardized tests, and/or students whose family can’t afford to pay private tutors? What happens to their chances of attending college?

Even before COVID disrupted standardized test schedules, some colleges and universities were shifting away from basing admission on standardized test scores and shifting to test optional admissions.

Test blind vs test optional: what’s the difference?

Test-blind admissions mean that a college won’t consider or review a student’s test scores even if they submit them. Test-optional admissions mean that students can opt to submit or not submit their test scores. If they submit them, the school considers them. If they don’t, the school considers the other parts of their application.

Bottom line

If your student does well on standardized tests or you want to invest in a test tutor, your student should consider submitting their test scores. If your student doesn’t do well on standardized tests scores or you can’t afford a test tutor, your student should consider applying test optional. 

What colleges and universities are test optional?

There is a growing number of schools that offer test optional admission. FairTest maintains a list of test-optional schools.

Janet Thibeau is president of BTA Education, an advocacy and school consulting firm in Massachusetts. She also serves on the board of directors and is the branch council chair at the International Dyslexia Association and actively supports its vision of “structured literacy in every K–3 classroom for every child across the nation and around the world.” She and her husband have five children, four of whom have dyslexia.  They all applied and were accepted at test-optional schools.

more college prep posts