Does Test Optional Really Mean Test Optional?

Updated: Jan 20

By Kathy Griswold Fine, PhD

Back in the day, novice educational consultant and college counselor me spent way too much brain power wondering if “Test Optional” truly meant test optional, or did it mean “Test Optional: wink, wink”? Since I truly believe that our students are so much more than the sum of their best test scores, and that three hours on some random Saturday morning should not be the defining moment in their young lives, I challenged myself to seek out answers from the source: college admissions staff.

Fast forward to now, and I can say with conviction that I do believe that “Test Optional” is just that. I have had more conversations with admissions directors and counselors than I can remember, and with one notable exception, it is clear that test optional policies are designed to allow authentic and holistic reviews of applications and that students are not penalized –academically nor financially—for electing to withhold test scores.

As I help students navigate the first, and hopefully the last round of COVID applications, I feel confident advising them to withhold their test scores if the data do nothing to strengthen a compelling application: 1600 ≠ awesomeness. Awesomeness = awesomeness!

Having finally answered that question to my satisfaction, with the pandemic, new ones have arisen. For example:

  •        Which of the 1,450+ colleges who have announced a COVID-19 test optional policy will keep that policy for the long-haul?

  •        As more schools accept students who do not submit test scores, how/will the College Board and the ACT maintain their grip on the admissions process?

In uncertain times, it is encouraging that the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) released a statement indicating that more than 400 colleges and universities “affirm that they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score. Together, we strongly endorse a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any student without a test score.” Indeed, Test Optional Means Test Optional!

Kathy Griswold Fine, Ph.D

Fine Educational Solutions

Using her extensive theoretical foundation in educational psychology and practical experience, Dr. Griswold Fine’s mission is to help adolescents and young adults reach their academic and personal goals. Recognizing that all students are unique, Dr. Griswold Fine has crafted a holistic approach, one that integrates critical constructs such as goal setting, self-regulation, organization, and self-advocacy. Dr. Griswold Fine sees every opportunity and task as a chance to teach the authentic, valuable skills associated with academic success. 

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