Standardized Testing in College Admission

Debunking the myths

To submit testing, or not to submit testing, that is the question on every student’s mind, but how much do colleges even care about standardized scores? Even though most colleges today use a holistic review that considers various factors to determine admission, standardized testing is often still considered to be the greatest stressor for high school students concerning their college applications. In this article, I am going to debunk common myths about the importance of testing in the college admission process. 

Do SATs/ACTs matter for your college application?


Testing is All That Matters

In recent years, especially as a result of the pandemic, many schools are placing less emphasis on standardized test scores in the admission process and are instead focusing on alternative factors such as GPA, course rigor, and essays. This means that, while testing is an important factor it is not the end all be all, and we can verify that through many schools’ decisions to continue or move towards a test-optional policy. When submitted, testing is used in tandem with your grades and rigor to accurately assess your academic preparation to handle college-level classes and succeed. Apart from that, colleges also want to understand how well you communicate and articulate your interests, which can be evaluated through your essays. They want to know how you plan to engage and lead on campus which can be assessed through your extracurricular activities in the form of student organizations, volunteering, leadership positions, and the impact you make in your community. Lastly, they want to know how you engage with your academic passions expressed through various avenues such as research, related academic programs, outside learning and projects, and more.

Test Optional Means There is No Need to Submit Test Scores 

Test-optional policies were implemented to reduce barriers for students applying to university. There are many reasons students may not be able or choose not to take the exam; for example, during the pandemic, there were limited testing sites open or health concerns to consider. Aside from those circumstances, there are students who suffer from test anxiety, learning disabilities, or rural students lacking the same access to testing facilities. In addition to access concerns, many feel that standardized testing is not equitable across all students and that these exams favor affluent students living in big cities, which then increases the educational gap for various populations. Because of these reasons, many schools have adopted a test-optional policy to increase accessibility and equity for students in the admission process. However, just because a school is test-optional does not mean you should automatically choose to go that route. When applying to selective colleges, the more academic data points you can offer the stronger case you can make for your credentials to attend. It is highly recommended that students study and prep for standardized tests and take them at least twice, barring significant access barriers, to get the best possible results. 

Once you receive your results, you can then decide whether or not to submit your scores based on how well you perform. If a student takes the SAT or ACT more than once, some colleges will require all of the results on the respective test to be submitted. Others automatically super score, meaning a student’s highest scores from each section on all test attempts are combined to create a new composite score.

Solomon and other higher education experts recommend researching the middle 50% – the range of scores between the 25th percentile and 75th percentile for the last admitted class – on each college’s website to see if your score falls within or above that range.

If your scores fall in the top band of testing for a particular university, those scores will help you. On the other hand, if you are in the bottom half of that band or below, those scores will not help and may hurt you. So unless there’s an extraneous reason why you should be submitting those scores, I would suggest you not submit them. A general rule of thumb for students is to submit test scores only if they are required or if they give you an advantage.

Perfect Standardized Testing Can Get You into any College You Want

A common myth relating to testing is that if you score in the top range on standardized testing you can automatically get into any school you want. This has long been disproved, especially as applications have been rising exponentially in previous years. Speaking from experience in selective admission, I have witnessed many students with perfect test scores being waitlisted or denied because that was all they were able to bring to the table. Colleges are looking for more in their students than just isolated academic excellence. They are seeking students who are curious, engaged, passionate, and individuals that will help grow the university through leadership and campus involvement. While testing is a strong data point that can help support your case for admission, it is far from the most important factor in your college results. 

Testing is Not Necessary to Predict Academic Success

Although a college application is capable of being accessed without testing on file, research has been conducted that supports the fact that when GPA and test scores are both present they give committees the strongest prediction of a student’s success in college, especially in the first year. Many colleges struggle with freshman retention so understanding a student’s preparation and academic foundation is critical to ensuring a student’s long-term success in college. You can read more about the research conducted by the University of California. There are various opinions in the educational community on the level of importance testing holds in considering a student’s academic foundation. In my professional opinion, the more strong quantitative data you can supply will only provide additional assurance to the admission committees. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to submit testing in your application or not, always remember it is a very personal decision based on a special set of circumstances. Though testing is helpful to admission members in the process, the many additional things you bring to the table are even more important. I hope I have given you some helpful insight as you begin creating your college plans. If you decide that you would like additional assistance with the college admission or application process, contact us today to learn how a Solomon Consultant can assist you. We can’t wait to help you reach your college goals!

Former Assistant Director of Admission at Rice University

4 Years in Rice University Admission
14,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Jessica has her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Texas. She also completed her MBA while working full time in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at her alma mater before transitioning to Rice University. As a first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about helping students apply to their dream schools.

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