Why You Need A Post-Pandemic Testing Plan

Taking a standardized test – the SAT and ACT – has long been a rite a passage for high school students, an integral part of their college application journey. First introduced in 1926 and 1959 respectively, standardized tests have been alternatively hailed as a way to level the playing field in college admissions and criticized creating barriers for low income, first generation and BIPOC students. (For those interested in learning more about the SAT’s origins and whether it contributes to perpetuating systemic racism, I recommend Bruce Hammond’s The SAT and Systemic Racism published in Inside Higher Ed).

Even before the pandemic, many colleges were discontinuing their reliance on standardized tests, moving to test optional or test blind or test free policies. Test optional means that a student may submit test scores if they believe they will enhance their application; test blind or test free means that colleges will not review test scores, even if they are submitted, as part of their admissions review.

During the pandemic both the SAT and ACT had to cancel many of their testing dates, forcing most colleges (with the Florida public university system the notable exception) to adopt test- optional or test blind/test free policies for the 2020-2021 application cycle. Indeed, according to the Common App, only 44% of students applying to college last year submitted test scores, as compared to 77% the year prior.  Fair Test, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an advocacy group that seeks to end the misuse of standardized tests (in college admissions as well as K-12 contexts), reports that as of April 13, 2021 over 1380 accredited 4-year universities will be remain test optional for the 2021-2022 application cycle. The University of California system recently announced that it will be test free for the 2021-2022 application cycle.

But these numbers do not tell the whole story about what testing will likely look like in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. The SAT and ACT continue to argue that standardized tests are a relevant data point in admissions reviews. Robert J Massa, co-founder of Enrollment Intelligence Now and chair of the Character Collaborative, told Inside Higher Ed he believes “the über-selective colleges that became test optional in response to COVID will return to requiring the tests,” but that most other colleges will stick with test optional.

So what does this mean for current high school juniors (as well as sophomores and freshman)? Will studying for, taking, and submitting test scores remain part of their college application experience? The short answer is: probably yes. Given the uncertainty as to whether all colleges will remain test optional, the uncertainty as to how many students will submit test scores in future application cycles, and the uncertainty as to how admissions officers will assess applications with and without test scores, the best practice is for high school students to have with a testing plan.

By taking standardized tests, students will have the option to decide if they want to submit scores to test optional colleges, and the option to apply to schools that reinstate testing requirements. The college application process is filled with variables that students cannot control, so when there is something they can control – studying for and taking standardized tests – they should do so.