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Standardized Tests in a New Era: What IECs Need to Know

By Elizabeth Stone PhD & Meredith J. Charlson

Whether or not IECs provide test prep services as part of college admission advising,

it is inevitable that test prep planning comes up early in the counseling process.

Now that most colleges have become “test optional,” at least in the short term, we

need to construct new messages to parents and students regarding testing options

and test planning in preparation for college admission.

Clarity in terminology:

Test Optional indicates a college will accept, but not require, submission of

ACT or SAT scores for general admission purposes. For non-submitting

students, the colleges will put greater weight on any combination of course

rigor, grades, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of


Not Test Blind differs from Test Optional. It indicates that colleges will

utilize submitted ACT or SAT scores (or possibly PSAT scores or AP scores

which, historically have not been used for admission purposes), even though

required. Test Optional colleges are not test blind!

Suspended Testing means that the colleges will not review any test scores

for admission purposes, even if they are submitted. For students who have

already tested – and tested well – this policy can be a big disappointment.

For many students, it is certainly a relief to know that endless hours of test prep

might have come to an end, with most U.S. colleges now being “test optional.”

However, there is definitely a population of students who will continue to benefit

from submitting test scores.

Students who will benefit from submitting test scores

Students with spotty academic records that may include one or more

changes in high school. For example, a high-achieving student may have

started strong at a rigorous high school but then saw a dip in grades due to a

mental illness; the student subsequently transferred to a therapeutic school

with no advanced coursework.

Bright students who did not take the rigorous course load offered by their

schools. For example, a 4.0 student who was advised that she did not need

any AP science classes because she wanted to study English.

Students attending individualized study programs or online courses without

a peer group. For example, a student who earned Cs in public high school

transferred to a very expensive 1:1 school and received three semesters of

straight As.

Students applying to highly competitive colleges or highly competitive

majors. Impressive submitted test scores provide additional evidence of

academic skills, which can assist a college in distinguishing amongst equally

qualified students. For example, a 3.8 GPA student applying to Stanford, who

received all As in high school through Junior Year except in Pre-Calculus,

might take the SAT in the Fall and receive an 800 in Math.

For every student you consult, consider whether submitting test scores will be a

benefit for your student. Assist your student in understanding the pros and cons of

test prep, and be sure your student is aware that submitting test scores may be a

boost to an application at test optional campuses.

In any scenario, knowing the results of a diagnostic practice ACT or SAT test, and the estimated increase in scores that might be possible with prep work, is invaluable information for the planning phase of college counseling.

Dr. Elizabeth Stone

Founder, Owner, Expert @Campanile College Tours, College Counseling and Marble Arch tutoring services

Dr. Stone has spent her career in the education field. In addition to directing Marble Arch, she is the Executive Director of Campanile College Counseling. She earned in Ph.D. in Special Education from UC Berkeley and has been on the faculty of UC San Francisco, San Francisco and San Jose State University, and currently teaching at UC Berkeley Extension. A Visiting Scholar in Language, Literacy, and Culture at Stanford University. Dr. Stone was featured in a LA Times article for her advocacy on fair practices by the College Board

Meredith Charlson

Director @Marble Arch Tutoring Services

Meredith Charlson is Head Tutor of Marble Arch Test Prep & Tutoring, and Director of Writing at Campanile College Counseling. Meredith graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford with a BA in Comparative Literature.  She mentors new test prep providers and teaches college essay writing in UC Berkeley, Certificate Program in College Counseling. She has also taught at College of San Mateo, tutored undergraduate and graduate students, at Hume Center at Stanford.


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