Do you remember studying for and taking your SAT or ACT tests? Or maybe you even took both?? Do
you believe this is your student’s ‘ticket’ to college? The college admissions landscape has completely
shifted over the past three years, and decisions about test requirements will continue to evolve over the
next few years as well.

Even prior to the pandemic, many colleges and universities were downplaying the role of test scores in
their admissions process. Selective and highly selective colleges and universities were using the test
score more as ‘validation’ for a student’s transcript – did it confirm the message coming through the
transcript? Many admissions counselors reported that if the transcript was good, the test score only
verified that, but that a lower test score didn’t necessarily reduce a student’s chance of being admitted.

As a result of access issues during the pandemic (test site closures, school closures, etc.), the vast
majority of colleges and universities declared admissions would be ‘test-optional’ as a way to de-stress
the students who were preparing applications. If a student had access to testing, and felt their score
represented them well, they could include it as part of their application. If they did not include a test
score, their application was reviewed without it, and not penalized in any way. Some colleges and
universities took this opportunity to change policies for good. Others have taken a year-by-year
approach. And some have committed to it for at least five years, so they can assess the data as these students
move through their programs, before making a final decision. A small handful of colleges were already
test-optional, or test-blind (meaning they won’t look at test scores even if they are submitted).

As such, our students now have MANY more, and wonderful, options for higher education to choose
from which do not require test scores as part of the application process. This currently includes all public
universities in the state of Colorado after a bill was passed in 2021 to remove the requirement. So,
should they prepare for and take a test at all?

While the admissions process has shifted in this direction, there are still many scholarship opportunities
that DO require a test score. Also, there are a few states (Florida, for example), and specific colleges and
universities that still require a test score for admission (like MIT, for example).

In the US, every college and university that accepts test scores accepts either the SAT or the ACT. There
is no longer a need for students to prepare for both – they are different enough from each other that
preparation for one does not equal preparation for both. Additionally, the SAT has announced that
starting in March 2024, the SAT will only be offered in a digital format. It is said to be simpler, take less
time and adapt to the student taking the test, resulting in a score that is comparable to the current
version. This means that our current ninth and tenth grade students who take the SAT their junior year
will take the digital version. And next year’s PSAT will also be digital.

Usually, our recommendation at DWS is that students try both a practice SAT and ACT to see if one feels
more ‘natural’ to them. And then, choose either ACT or SAT, and prepare for that test. International
students usually need the SAT, and some majors, like engineering, prefer the SAT. Otherwise, students
really do have a choice. And now that choice includes whether to take a test at all.

As a family, it is important to weigh the investment of time and energy (and perhaps money) in
preparation with the potential outcome. For many more students than ever before, this results in a
decision not to take either test (especially for those students who are negatively impacted in a test
environment). Some students choose to take one to see how they do, and keep options open, but may
choose to not submit scores to individual colleges. Others who do well on this type of exam do take it,
and in some situations, it opens additional doors for them.

If your student opts to take either the ACT or SAT, we recommend they prepare during their junior year,
and take their first attempt in the spring of junior year. If they are happy with their score, they can be
done at that time. Most of our students who opt to take SAT or ACT will continue to prepare after the
first sitting and take it again during the summer or early fall. Experience has shown that scores do not
improve much after the third attempt. Most students are motivated by their first score to prepare
differently and improve their score the second sitting. Remember that these tests are designed to be
taken at the end of their junior year.

If you have questions, or would like to discuss your student’s individual situation, please reach out to
Laura Shope, our Next Steps Counselor, who can help you understand the considerations as you make
your final decision. The bottom line is that the role of standardized tests in college admissions is shifting,
and now students have more options than ever before.