What does Test Optional mean? Do I still have to take the SAT?
These questions have been visiting my Inbox for the past 2 months ever since some schools have announced that they are test optional for this coming application cycle. There is a lot of confusion on the issue. But this post will clear up some of your questions.
What does “Test Optional” mean?
Test optional means that your application without SAT or ACT scores will not be penalized. It is supposed to mean that an application with scores and one without scores will be compared equally. Many schools have been test optional for a number of years. As of today (May 22, 2020), some schools have declared that for the next application cycle (entrance in Fall of 2021), including Williams College, Tufts, and Boston University. University of California schools are also moving to test optional.
Don’t burn your books just yet
The move to become test optional is meant to relieve some of the worry students have because several of the testing dates for 2020 have been cancelled. Students are concerned they won’t be able to access tests and thus won’t be able to have a test score. However, test optional does not mean no testing data will be accepted. Students who have test scores will be submitting them in their applications. The College Board has announced plans to have more testing dates in the Fall of 2020, providing more opportunities to take the test.
SAT and ACT scores do serve a purpose
There is a reason that so many schools have used standardized test scores for so long as an evaluation tool. These scores make it easier to compare students. How do I know whether your 96% average is the result of you being a stellar student or the result of grade inflation? Well, a 1560 SAT score supports your average and indicates you are more likely to be a top-notch student. How do I know that your writing skills are solid and you will be able to write a college level essay or that you rely heavily on Grammarly? A combination of your Writing & Language Score and your SAT Essay will show me what you can do without outside help.
Should I still plan to take the SAT
My simple answer is “YES.” Not all schools are waiving the test requirements. Please check with all the schools directly to see what their latest policy is. The situation is changing every day. Most schools will have a mailing list you can join and they will send you updates as things change. If you are serious about a school, you want to be on their mailing list anyway.
But I don’t want to waste my time
Preparing for the SAT should not be considered a “waste of time.” The SAT and ACT are evaluating the skills you need to excel at university. Your reading, writing and math skills are the cornerstones of academic excellence, so how could improving those skills ever be a waste of time?
Adjusting your preparation for the SAT
Too often SAT preparation is devolves into taking practice test after practice test. But that is not the most efficient or effective way to improve, especially when it comes to reading. Students who start with solid reading skills need a minimal amount of prep for the SAT because they already have a broad vocabulary and high level comprehension. Right now you have the unique opportunity to take the time to read. The best way to improve your reading is to practice with challenging materials. This should not be seen as a means to an end.
Pick a book you would enjoy reading. Read for the pleasure of it. Then read another, and another. Find someone you can talk to about the books you are reading. Did you misunderstand something? Next read things that you find less engaging to push yourself to be able to focus on “boring” stuff. Maybe use short stories or articles for this type of reading. Test yourself on your comprehension and memory. Make a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words. Fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and learn more about wild Mustangs or Quarks or Quasars. Learn for the sake of learning something you are really interested in (it just might give you something interesting to write about on your application essays).
What will happen?
When this all started in March (here in North America), there were hundreds of questions about what was going to happen. The truth is-Nobody Knows. This shouldn’t be as scary as you think…because nobody ever knew what was going to happen. We just live in societies that like to pretend like everything is predictable and stable. Could things change again in the fall? Yes. Could things go back to “normal”? Sure, maybe.
You have a choice
You could spend the next 3 months worrying about the future and thinking that all is lost. Devolve into a haze of Netflix, Tiktok, and video games. OR you can do what all survivors have done in the past. Get Busy. Plan for the best and the worst. Prepare as much as possible so that even if things change you have done the work to be ready for it. Don’t let this time slip through your fingers, but also look after your physical and mental health. Balance work and rest. Connect with friends–maybe form a book club where you can bash the books you think are a stupid waste of time (I suggest starting with The Old Man and the Sea). Have some fun, but also do some work. And above all, be kind to yourself and everyone else.
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