Students Embrace Test-Optional


Fewer taking SAT, ACT exams since pandemic

Last year, as the deadline to submit college applications quickly approached, Maia Keller felt relieved that her top choice was test-optional.

Though the majority of colleges had transitioned to not requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT test scores, the Cold Spring resident began studying for the ACT in the summer before her junior year at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry.

After completing many practice tests and putting in hours of work, she decided to stop studying for the ACT in June of her junior year.

“I realized that the scores I was getting did not measure my academic success,” said Keller, who did not submit test scores to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she just finished her freshman year.

“I knew that the amount of work and time I was putting into studying could be used toward something else in my application, like my grades,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, test-optional and test-blind college admissions (meaning scores will not be used in an admissions decision) had started to expand widely. For example, George Washington University has been test-optional since 2015, according to the school.

But the number of colleges dropping their mandate for ACT and SAT scores accelerated during the pandemic, when, beginning in March 2020, COVID-19 disrupted the ability of students to safely prepare for and take the tests.

About 1,870 colleges were test-optional or test-free for the 2023 application year, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest. The College Board, which administers the SAT, reported that 1.7 million high school students took the test in 2022, an increase of 200,000 over the year before but still 500,000 fewer than 2019, before the pandemic.

In New York state, 122,170 high school students took the SAT in 2022, compared to 162,179 in 2019, according to the College Board. The same trend holds for the ACT, which was administered to 1.35 million students in 2022 compared to nearly 1.8 million in 2019.

The spike in colleges that no longer mandate test scores means the demand for test tutors is also less than before the pandemic, said David Ticker, a math teacher at Lakeland High School who has been tutoring students for the SAT and ACT for 14 years. The pandemic also harmed the finances of many families, he said.

“I’d say that there’s a split between people at this point — the ones who think studying for the test is important and they want to and know they have to submit their scores,” said Ticker. “Then there are people who are like, ‘I’ll focus on the test-optional piece of it.’ ”

Lorelei McCarthy, a Garrison resident who is a senior at The Masters School, is not an advocate for standardized tests. She believes the tests do not accurately measure what students know, but their ability to “memorize facts for a short period of time.”

McCarthy took the ACT, and after receiving a score that was in the range for the schools to which she was going to apply, decided to not take it again. She submitted that score with each application.

For the SAT, she took a practice exam in February of her sophomore year, focused on her Advanced Placement (AP) classes during her junior year and did not study much for the SAT that she took in April of her junior year.

“​​I decided that I was proud of the score,” she said. “Maybe I could have studied and gotten it up a point or two, but at the end of the day, I decided I would rather focus my time on my Common App essays.”

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