Test Optional or Test Flexible? What You Need to Know

College admissions policies regarding standardized test scores and how they could affect you

Image of a pencil on a page from a standardized test

(Image: File)

This post was written by BE Smart Contributor Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T. For more about the author, see her bio at the end of this post.

[Related: Young People’s Project Empowers Youth With Math Skills]

Testing bias can be a barrier to higher education that otherwise qualified students encounter, particularly students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. There is an incontrovertible link between family income and standardized test scores: The higher the family income, the higher the test scores.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 800 institutions are “test optional” or “test flexible;” some are “test blind.” Unless students submit their test scores, such schools make admissions decisions without reviewing applicants’ SAT or ACT scores. Whether or not such policies improve diversity at the schools has been brought into question, however.

So, what exactly does test optional and test flexible mean?

Test Optional
The test-optional admissions policy generally means that a student is not required to submit SAT or ACT test scores during the application process. Not all test-optional policies are the same. Test-blind schools, such as Hampshire College, may not require students to submit any standardized test scores; others, like Virginia Commonwealth University, may exempt students who have a certain grade point average.

VCU’s policy states that students whose grade point average is 3.3 or higher may request a review of their application without test scores. Some schools leave it up to the student to submit their scores or not. Temple University’s “Temple Option” policy gives applicants the option of answering several “self-reflective, short-essay questions” instead of submitting test scores. However, some schools require applicants to submit test scores if they want to be considered for merit scholarships.

Test Flexible
Schools that use a test-flexible admissions policy allow applicants to submit a variety of standardized test scores in support of their application. For example, at Colorado College, students can submit scores from the SAT Reasoning Test, the ACT Assessment Test, or three exams of their choice from a given list. New York University accepts seven test options, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam scores.

If you decide to apply to a test-flexible or test-optional school, keep in mind that the rest of your application will now carry more weight. Your grades, the rigor of the courses you’ve taken, and the extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in will be examined more closely if you don’t submit test scores.

Check the admissions requirements of each institution on their website, and carefully read their policies on submitting test scores. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact the school’s admissions department.

Explore the list of test-optional and test-flexible schools at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T. is founder and CEO of GamePhox Unlimited L.L.C.  A motivational speaker who has lectured at various high schools, colleges, professional youth sport foundations, and youth groups, Dixon is the author of Bridging the Gap: A Simple Guide to College. She earned a B.A. in sociology from Boston College, an M.A.T. in secondary education from Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), and an M.S. in sport management from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. The proud New Jersey native is a member of the Ewing High School Athletic Hall of Fame and The Trenton Softball Hall of Fame. You can learn more about her at www.gamephox.com and www.bridgingthecollegegap.com.