In 2022, the number of students who sat for the SAT or ACT dropped more students skipping out on taking either the SAT or ACT entirely; their scores are dropping as well. According to ACT.org, the average composite score of the graduating class of 2022 was the lowest in the past 30 years (clocking in at 19.8).
Whether or not this demonstrates the learning loss students experienced because of the pandemic or if students aren't studying (because why should they if the majority of colleges are still test-optional, right?) Many parents (and students) are wondering,
Should my kid be taking this test?
So that's what we're going to cover today. As an aside, this information comes from a podcast episode on Mindful Admissions. If you prefer to watch our conversation, check out our youtube video.
Test-blind/Test-free = Will not consider your SAT or ACT score (UCs or CSUs) Test-optional = You are free to submit your scores if you would like Test-flexible = You'll need to submit some score (IB, AP, or SAT/ACT) For more information about the basics behind test-optional, refer to our blog post: Why did colleges go test-optional, or go more in-depth about the logic behind whether you should submit your scores and if they are a requirement at all.
Reason 1: The SAT and ACT can help you prepare for college
When ACT.org published its report for the graduating class of 2022, it warned educators that only 22% of students met all 4 "college-readiness" benchmarks across subjects. Translation: The ACT believes that out of 100 students, only 22 are likely to get a C or better in their courses at college. Does that indeed mean that students aren't "college-ready"? No. Students frequently can and do rise up to the challenge. However, what this tells us is that a large portion of students will have some rocky roads ahead. According to a New York Times article,
The problems have been particularly bad for first-year students, said Paulo Lima-Filho, the executive director of the university’s math learning center, which provides tutoring. Students of all kinds seemed to lack sharp foundational math skills and rigorous study habits.
At colleges like A&M Texas University, professors are seeing a marked increase in students who are either failing or withdrawing from select math classes. Math professors talked about reducing their syllabus (and their expectations). On the other side, while humanities professors haven't noticed a dramatic dip in students' grades, they see that students seem more anxious and reluctant to seek resources than ever before- even when resources are free.
When submitting ACT and SAT scores was considered the "status quo," students knew they needed to study for them, which helped them gain familiarity with the academics being tested and, more importantly, the skills they needed to develop to succeed at college.
"These tests are not opportunities in and of themselves to learn anything about yourself but the studying you do for them, the preparation for them. That's what will really build a skill set for you that will be tremendously valuable in college and for the rest of junior and senior year." - Josefine Borrmann
When you think about it, the SAT and ACT offer students opportunities to set long-term goals. And because the curriculum they cover is finite, they also provide students a way to practice the kind of skills they'll need for college in a structured way.
Students must learn to tolerate frustration with challenging academics to get a high SAT or ACT score. They know how to dissect problems and think critically about solutions under timing pressure. And because students often take these tests (or practice tests) multiple times, they allow them to reflect on their mistakes and grow from them.
And what better way to help students foster a sense of self-confidence than by showing students how they've incrementally developed to meet a challenge?
Reason 2: Studying for the SAT or ACT can help you place into higher-level classes
Are these tests the only way students can gain critical thinking skills, study habits, and goal setting? Not. But how many students would proactively challenge themselves to do extra math problems consistently or re-teach grammar concepts of their own? Not many. Preparing for the SAT or ACT can help raise your standardized test score (and give you access to many benefits regarding college applications, but we'll talk about that later). Still, they also impact students far beyond those tests.
Don't believe me? Take it from Lily, a strong humanities student who increased their composite ACT score and went from a low 20's score to a 32 on the ACT with only a year and a half of studying.
When asked about the effects of preparing for the ACT "I am generally not a strong math student, and I have never been. But I realized a couple of months into my junior year that I was doing much better in my regular math classes than in the past. And I would credit that mainly to the fact that I had never had to do such rigorous and consistent math work outside of school before. And nothing that had that much structure and kind of study skills built into it. And so I was able, after my first semester of junior year, to place into an advanced math class that only had five people in it besides me. And then, in my senior year, I took calculus at my school, which is a relatively rare thing. Very few people wind up taking calculus at my school. Still, I wound up taking the highest-level math class available at my high school. And I would say that's because I had to do the math for a year and a half, which I would not have done otherwise. And to build my study skills and my ability to think critically about math"
Reason 3: Got a blip on your transcript? 'SAT and ACT scores can help smooth it out.
Should you test for a test-blind or test-free college (like the UC system)? Absolutely not! But: most universities are test-optional, not test-blind. That means that you have the option of submitting your scores. My advice: take the test (and study for it!) - then decide which universities to raise your score to. If you score in the top 50% of applicants, your score can truly add value to your overall application!
If you can attain a competitive score on the SAT or ACT, this will help boost your application! Especially students with GPAs lower than what they believe they are capable of can showcase their academic skills and commitment by preparing well and successfully taking the SAT or ACT. This is your opportunity to balance out your GPA and add another morsel of goodness to your overall application. However, if you really struggle with these standardized tests, and you believe your score on them is far below the academic prowess you are demonstrating through your GPA and rigor of coursework, then you might want to choose to apply without submitting your scores and instead pour your energy into maintaining high academics and preparing a solid application.
Reason 4: Not all universities are test optional - some still prefer or require the SAT or ACT.
Watch out: here is a list of all test-optional colleges in the nation (updated continuously). Several universities still require either the SAT or ACT. If you do not take one of these tests, you will not be able to apply to test-required universities.
*Note, please look into each college's policies on this list. While some colleges indicate "test-optional" by clicking on the college's link, you'll see that some colleges indicate that SAT or ACT scores are preferred."
Most schools still require applicants to take either the ACT or SAT and report scores. Although these schools universally value high school GPA and rigor of coursework as the most important factors in their evaluations, they take the ACT/SAT scores into consideration when developing a full student profile. What about ignoring these schools that require test scores in your college search? Regarding list-building, using test-optional schools as one of your narrowing criteria is a pretty good strategy for students who don’t like tests, but it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider.
Colleges Requiring Test Scores Florida State University The University of Florida, Florida International, FIU, The University of South Florida, The University of Central Florida, University of Georgia Georgia Tech The University of Tennessee. MIT, Case Western
University of Wisconsin- Madison
Reason 5: The benefits of test-optional policies may be ending for colleges
Test-optional policies represent both a blessing and a curse for colleges. On the one hand, it has led to administrative overload and admissions readers complaining about a lack of guidance. On the other hand, it has grossly enlarged their applicant pool and allowed colleges to admit some of the most diverse classes they've had in years.
However, that all might be gone shortly with the Supreme Court's opinion that may eliminate the college's ability to consider race in their decision on who they should admit to their colleges. Will colleges continue to handle the headache of hundreds of thousands of applications only to have their backs tied about who they can admit? Only time will tell.
This is really important for juniors (grad class of 2023): we don't have a crystal ball, so we do not know how many universities will remain test optional. At the onset of the pandemic, over 1500 universities went test-optional only temporarily, most for 1-2 years. Therefore, it is unclear how many of these colleges will elect to remain test optional for the freshman class of 2023.
Reason 6: Access to Merit Aid, Honors colleges, Accelerated degree programs, and Special Scholarships
Some universities have special programs or scholarships that may still require you to submit standardized test scores. If you're not sure yet which of these programs you might be interested in, do your research and see if any of them require or allow submission of SAT or ACT scores - if so, this might be your opportunity to shine!
Higher test scores aren’t only a factor in admissions decisions and financial aid awards. While some test-optional merit scholarships are offered, the vast majority still factor in ACT/SAT scores. Putting in extra work to raise your test score can lead to more free money to pay for college, which takes on even more incredible value during an economic recession.
Most colleges that are test optional are still test optional for merit scholarships, meaning you can still get merit scholarships without it, but a lot of colleges use an index where they can cross-check your GPA to your test scores. So if you have just a 3.0 GPA, or are even in the highs 2's, you are technically below the average of most incoming college students and may not get a merit said award.
But if you give them a good SAT or ACT score (or something above your GPA), that will bump you up on their index and give you a better chance of getting a good merit scholarship.
Reason 7 (most important): You have nothing to lose.
Taking the SAT or ACT does not equal submitting your scores to colleges. You still have time to figure out if you feel that your scores represent you well, and you can decide at the beginning of the senior year whether you'll be submitting your scores to all colleges, some colleges, or no colleges. It's better to be over-prepared than to not have scores to submit and suddenly have to cram in a rushed, last-minute test date in senior year when you're feeling stressed enough already grappling with personal statements, resumes, and application portals.
Preparing for the ACT or SAT can actually help you to develop academic skills you will use beyond the test date. While these tests are certainly flawed as measures of college readiness, they do assess certain skills that are helpful in both higher education and the professional world. Our test prep tutors at Strive to Learn focus on helping students to learn the time management, organization, and critical thinking skills that will make them more confident, capable students and more well-rounded adults.
So, now that you've decided to test, what should your approach be?
Learn about the different test prep methods and determine which fits your learning style. Cover your bases by taking the SAT or ACT once or twice during your junior year so that you have no regrets once it comes to applying to colleges.
Prepare! Don't take it cold - make test day count by doing multiple practice tests and working through the material you need to brush up on.
Read our free SAT & ACT Survival Guide to know when you should test, which test is better for you, and what timeline of prep and testing might fit you best.
And, if you have more questions about this quagmire that standardized testing can be, don't hesitate to reach out! Our lovely academic advisers would be happy to sit down for a free consultation with you to discuss what fits you best (and yes, we advise some students to forget about these tests if it makes sense for their specific situation).
Strive to Learn Founder