Students Who Benefit From Test-Optional, Test-Flexible Admissions

(US News Education) By Brian White–

In some ways, it is possible to state that the U.S. has a passion for academic testing. With a simple standardized exam, a complex human can be distilled to several numbers. Sometimes these test results offer useful insights into student ability, but sometimes they obscure the truth.

A growing number of colleges and universities realize the limitations of standardized exams, and are thus offering test-optional or test-flexible admissions. There are currently more than 200 highly ranked top-tier schools that de-emphasize entrance exams.

Three types of students in particular benefit from this option: those with high grades but poor test scores, those who excel in a particular subject and those with serious test anxiety.

1. Students with strong GPAs and low test scores: Test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies do not signify a school has abandoned standards. Many of the schools in this category are quite competitive, but have chosen to focus on other ways to measure achievement and potential.

While applicants should still have excellent GPAs, these schools may weigh other factors – such as extracurricular activities and references – more heavily than in traditional admissions. This makes these school great options for students who excel academically but do not test well.

If you have low test scores but have been an active volunteer, have served as a leader in after-school activities, can write killer essays or have ringing personal endorsements from your mentors, opting against the ACT or SAT may also be right for you.

And if this student profile fits you, do not feel you have failed. Standardized tests benefit some students, but they do not suit everyone.

College is ultimately an exercise in recognizing your unique strengths and working with your limitations. By choosing a competitive test-optional school instead of settling for a less competitive college with broader enrollment, you will be interacting with exceptional students like yourself. In other words, embrace this opportunity to play to your strengths.

[Understand how to stand out as a college applicant.]

2. Students with marked talent in a specific area: Certain students excel in a relatively narrow area of the academic spectrum. Consider, for instance, the gifted artist who struggles tremendously with math or the science enthusiast with little interest in English literature. This type of student may not have an excellent GPA but rather high grades more heavily skewed toward one or two subjects.

If this situation describes you, do not despair. And do not settle for a less challenging school based solely on your average GPA.

Art schools, for example, are often test-ambivalent. Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, for example, does not include the ACT and SAT among the factors evaluated. Instead, the college highly values a student’s audition and portfolio. Your high school transcripts are still relevant, of course, but art schools tend to have realized that standardized exams and artistic talent are sometimes at odds.

Unfortunately, the situation is less clear for the exceptional science, technology, engineering and math student. Many of the STEM-focused schools still require specific test scores.

There are, however, many colleges with excellent STEM programs that are test-optional or test-flexible. In the case of test-flexible schools, you may be permitted to submit several AP or SAT subject tests in areas of your choosing in lieu of the ACT or SAT, or you may be able to select which ACT or SAT scores you send, thus enabling you to build the strongest possible profile.

3. Students with test anxiety: Students with test anxiety may be considered a subset of the first type of student described, except that their anxiety may have prevented them from contemplating taking the ACT or SAT.

Test anxiety is a real phenomenon. As with many issues impacting your health and happiness, there is a delicate balance between coping and healing.

[Read about ways to reduce anxiety on test day.]

While you do not want to allow anxiety to dictate your path in life, you also do not want to shortchange yourself academically because you perform poorly on standardized exams. As has been mentioned, it is possible to attend a great school without stellar test scores.

Exploring your test-optional or test-flexible choices may also reduce your anxiety to manageable levels. If knowing that performing poorly on a test will not prevent you from attending a competitive college, you may be able to relax enough to do well.