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The Reality of the Testing-Optional Trend

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Note: This article is a guest post written by Matthew Larriva, UPenn alumni and founder of Powerful Prep. Established in 2009, Powerful Prep is Orange County’s premium SAT Prep and ACT Prep results-oriented program, offering the convenience of in-home tutoring with the engagement of one-on-one sessions. 



The 2010s have seen a dynamic college landscape emerge that stands in contrast to the static routine of the 2000s. On the academic front there is the New SAT, the shift toward the Common Core, and the increased competitiveness of the admissions process. Standing in contrast to these trends are movements like Harvard’s Turning the Tide letter, and perhaps most stark, the Testing-Optional trend.


The trend of Testing-Optional institutions (colleges that do not require students to submit SAT or ACT results) has seen a wave of popularity and uptake, from one school in 1969 to over 850 at present.


Schools routinely opt into a Testing-Optional policy under the stated goals of increased socioeconomic and ethnic diversity and more holistic applicant consideration—shifts much needed in today’s precollege environment. But little has been done to evaluate if schools are achieving these goals, if the testing-optional trend is gaining purchase in the more rigorous institutions, or, more fundamentally, why a Testing-Optional policy would by itself yield any positive externalities.


In Powerful Prep’s whitepaper The Reality of the Testing Optional Trend a few surprising factors become clear.

First, through a thorough scrubbing of Fairtest.org’s list of Testing-Optional schools, it is revealed that there are far fewer traditional colleges shifting to Testing-Optional than the count might suggest. In fact, many of the schools listed as Testing-Optional require the SAT or ACT in some form, for some part of their student body.


While that oversight is more clerical than insidious, a meta-study of school equality and diversity reports shows that there are little perceived effects of the new test-optional policy. Moreover, the paper examines and concludes that test scores are just as biased as GPAs, the metric used in place of tests.


Finally, suggests the study, it is important to remember that a Testing-Optional has a hidden benefit for schools. Testing-Optional announcements often gain publicity, which can, with less strict applications requirements, often increase a school’s applicant pool. An increased applicant pool, without a corresponding increase in admitted-headcount creates a higher rejection rate, or a higher selectivity ranking—one of the metrics looked at by the prestigious US News and World college ranking report.


Although the Testing-Optional trend is, ostensibly, a needed step toward increased academic equality and a revised admissions process, the reality is not so. At best, the trend is misleading, and at worst it is a backdoor to a rankings boost for institutions.


Click here to view the full PDF of Powerful Prep’s whitepaper, The Reality of the Testing Optional Trend


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