As the 2021 year comes to a close, many will be looking at the approaching New Year’s Day as the hallmark that ends a nightmarish year and looks at 2022 as a time to return to normality.
However, the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt lingering for years to come, and as proof of that, students that are looking to enter a college or university will already be facing a predicament— test scores.
Due to safety and health reasons, many American College Test (ACT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) tests have had to be canceled or delayed, and with the consensus that the main aspect that colleges and universities are looking for are test results, it’s easy to see how many could be worried. That being said, institutions have already taken steps to ensure that the school year is not disrupted too badly by adopting optional policies for testing.
Although this term is not exactly new, it has become far more prominent in the last year, so it is normal that many people are suddenly being forced to become familiar with the term. In the simplest terms, test-optional means that a college will allow admission even without test scores.
Getting to the technicals, however, we see a different image than would normally be imagined. The truth is that there are levels that schools will overlook test scores— or the lack thereof. Test optional means exactly that, test scores are indeed not a requirement for admission, but you are more likely to get admitted if you apply with SAT scores above the 25ᵗʰ percentile.
Another level on this scale is a test-blind college that will not require test scores of any kind and will even ignore them if you submit them. These schools will not accept any test scores from any source and therefore will be a good alternative if you suffer from poor test-taking skills that would otherwise taint your overall academic achievements.
If colleges and universities will overlook and right-out ignore test scores, then what exactly will they base their decision of admission on? It should come as no surprise that these schools will scrutinize all aspects of your academic experience and weigh them far more than otherwise. This will likely include grades, essays, extracurricular activities, and notable achievements; so it would be wise to place extra effort on those aspects before applying.
SAT/ACT Scores This Year
As previously stated, test-optional colleges and universities will still accept test scores, so there are situations where you should submit these with your application even if you do not have to. If your scores are good enough, then you will benefit from a far greater chance of being accepted, and even if your scores are not as good as you expected, then you might still want to submit them.
The reason for this is the decline in test-taking and scores this year. You might not be aware that students are allowed to take these tests as many times as they wish, and this has caused, in previous years, test score averages to be improved since students were able to study and try again.
Allowing for these tests to be taken multiple times will naturally allow for low scores to improve and result in higher averages, but the opposite is also true; COVID-19 restrictions that stopped and delayed testing might lower the average.
That means that even if people could take the SAT or the ACT, it is not likely that people were given the chance to improve their scores if they performed below their own expectations. From this, we can assume that even if you did not perform as well as you had hoped, other students are also likely in the same situation. Of course, this must be taken on an individual level and there are multiple factors that might affect how this would benefit your chances of admission.
Retaking the SAT/ACT
It is still advisable to retake either of the tests for the highest score that you can possibly achieve (that is if you are safe to do so). Even if there are colleges that are taking tests as optional, that does not mean that you will be fine even if you do not take any of these tests at all.
No matter how thorough your academic life has been so far, you will have a far more significant chance of getting into the school you apply to with high test scores. That’s the reason that students should take or retake the test if at all possible, and the alternative is better used as a second option if all else fails.
Of course, that also means that if you do get the chance to take the SAT, but you perform exceptionally badly, then you should refrain from submitting those scores if possible. That is to say, if you score below the 25ᵗʰ percentile then you will be better off simply relying on other factors like an exceptionally high-grade point average (GPA).
If you were unable to take the SAT/ACT due to COVID-19 restrictions (that means signing up to take the test and having it canceled due to COVID-19 guidelines), then you should properly tell the college or university that you are applying to in your application in the appropriate box. It should be noted that this means the “Additional Information” box rather than the box that will ask for COVID-19 specifically.
This box is not meant for this type of information, and you should not use it for such. When you supply the school with this information, you should give as many details as possible. For instance, it would be wise to add the dates of the tests you applied to and were canceled. This will strengthen your story and dissuade the institution from thinking you might be lying for other reasons. You should also ask your teachers and/or your references to add a note on the letters of recommendation that they give you, that explains that you did try to take the tests but were unable to due to COVID-19.
I feel obligated to once again explain that your explanation for failing to take the SAT/ACT due to COVID-19 restrictions does not belong in the COVID-19 box. That box is meant for the palpable effects that the pandemic had on your life; death of a loved one, serious hospitalization, loss of income, etc. In order to not appear tone-deaf, you should refrain from adding anything to this box that might seem trivial compared to the problems that COVID-19 might have caused to others.
You should obviously talk to your counselor or another similar figure about what exactly your best choice is regarding academic matters. Each individual has different circumstances that can affect their admission to universities, and these should be brought up by your school counselor. Factors like demographics, target geography, and unique life experiences will greatly impact your decisions and you should always consult an expert before making a final decision on whether you will apply without test scores.