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Is test-optional really test-optional?

The hidden truth behind SAT/ACT for this year. And some pro-tips.

What everyone knows is that several colleges and universities started a ‘test-optional’ policy, ever since there has been a raging debate about whether universities should go test-optional. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, some colleges have been forced to re-evaluate their stand. Many have begun to de-emphasize SAT/ACT scores.

But is there more than what meets the eye? We did some digging and found out what others won’t tell you about the test-optional policy. But first a few basics.

What is Test-Optional Policy?

Colleges and universities with test-optional policies do not require the students to submit their SAT and ACT score for admissions. While such test-optional schools will consider the SAT and ACT scores if the student has submitted them, their focus would be on other aspects (read ‘holistic review’)

that better indicates the potential of a student. These aspects primarily include the student’s recommendations, essays, achievements, extracurricular activities, and academics.

What is Test-Flexible Policy?

Some colleges and universities have adopted a test-flexible admission policy. This policy means that the students have the option to submit scores of other tests in place of SAT and ACT scores.

These options include an International Baccalaureate (IB) exam, Advanced Placement (AP) exam, or one or more SAT Subject Tests. For instance, NYU has a test-flexible policy which states that the students could submit any one of the following-

SAT (essay test not mandatory)

ACT (writing test not mandatory)

Three AP exam scores

Three SAT Subject Test scores

International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma

Three high-level IB exam scores for candidates who do not have IB diploma

Specific international qualifications which confirm completion of secondary education

Let’s move to what you probably didn’t know.

It’s the New Normal

College admission news has been buzzing lately with the likes of Cornell University and Harvard College announcing that the students submitting their applications for 2020-21 without SAT and ACT scores will not be disadvantaged. Every day we hear of universities following suit.

Are the Test-Optional Policies Similar Across Colleges?

No, the test-optional policies of most colleges impose many restrictions. For instance, some schools with the test-optional policy still require international and out-of-state students to submit their test scores. The test scores can also be mandatory for specific majors. Also, some of the colleges use an index which is based on your test scores, GPA, class rank, etc. to decide whether or not you are required to submit test scores.

Have the Colleges Permanently adopted the Test-Optional Policies?

Yes and no. Many of the colleges that adopted test-optional policies in the last couple of years might have adopted them for good. But the colleges that have recently adopted the policy owing to the COVID-19 pandemic have only done so temporarily.

For instance, Cornell University has clearly stated that while the university has temporarily adopted a test-optional policy due to the pandemic, it is only for applicants for fall 2021 enrolment.

Finding Test-Optional Colleges

There are more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the US that have adopted test-optional policies over the past few years. The number has increased further since the COVID-19 outbreak. But do note that the majority of the prestigious universities still require students to submit their SAT scores.

Here’s what we promised—some Pro tips.

Pro Tip 1: If you are planning to apply to any of the universities in the US, do check their admission criteria to know whether or not you need to submit SAT/ACT score. In most cases, it’d be better for the applicants to take the SAT or ACT as this will only help increase the number of colleges you could apply to.

Pro Tip 2: If a college has adopted a test-optional policy, it doesn’t mean that it is also test-blind. While submitting the scores may be options, it doesn’t become irrelevant to the institution. Adding strong scores to your application is likely to add more weight to it.

Pro Tip 3: Due to social distancing, it is likely that most students will not be able to add community service, summer internships or extracurricular activities like sports to their applications. This is when a high SAT/ACT score could be a strong differentiating factor.

Pro Tip 4: For several colleges that have adopted a test-optional policy, continue to consider test scores for their prestigious merit- scholarships.

At Writers Qi we believe that you should add every piece of evidence that you can to demonstrate your academic potential. While it may be tough to take the SAT, if your college list is aspirational, bite the bullet and take the SAT or ACT. Reach out to us if you have any questions about test-optional schools!

Here are some important dates:


August 25th, 2020

October 6th, 2020

November 3rd, 2020

December 1st, 2020


June 13, 2020

July 18, 2020

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