The Ivy Coach Daily

October 14, 2020

Test-Optional is Malarkey

Test-optional policies don’t mean what many think they mean.

When a school goes test-optional — as all the Ivy League schools did this year — it means that a student with great scores has no advantage over a student with no scores, right? Wrong. All else being equal, at highly selective colleges that have gone test-optional, a student with great test scores will always have an advantage over a student who doesn’t submit test scores. Of course, if you ask a college admissions officer at a school that has gone test-optional if submitting no test scores will not disadvantage your child, they’ll tell you exactly what you want to hear. But, unfortunately, it’s just not the truth. These colleges, after all, are businesses and their objective is to get as many students to apply — to boost their application numbers and lower their admission rates. So of course they’ll tell you that a student who doesn’t submit test scores is at no disadvantage. Go to a physician who sells designer vitamins and you bet he or she will tell you that it’s amazing you are yet living in spite of never before consuming these designer vitamins. You can always find the answer you want to hear. That answer just isn’t necessarily, well, right.

Many Make the Argument Test-Optional Means Optional

Heck, read today’s New York Times and you will note a journalist, Jeffrey Selingo, out with a recently published book, making the argument that test-optional really does mean test-optional. As he states, answering this very question — if test-optional really does mean test-optional: “This year it does. Even if applicants and their parents believe that a test score is the differentiating factor in admission, even when applying to test-optional colleges, this is not a normal year. Too many students can’t take a test and get a score for colleges to largely ignore their applications. In recent years, the University of Chicago, the most selective college until now to be test-optional, still received scores from upward of 85 percent of its applicants. So, I can understand why students thought that it was still required. But this year the admissions dean at Chicago told me it might only get 50 percent of students submitting a score. You’ll be in good company if you don’t have a score. I get that students from top high schools want to do everything to improve their chances at a selective college, but I wonder if the test score might be that thing this year.”

The Argument Is Cute, But Regrettably Untrue

Oh, Mr. Selingo. You’re too smart to make this argument. Of course these schools are going to admit students who don’t submit test scores. In light of all the test cancelations, they’re going to have to admit these students. But it still behooves students to submit scores. It still gives students an advantage to submit great scores. The example you gave — the University of Chicago — is a perfect example that proves our argument true. When UChicago went test-optional, we still urged students to submit test scores. In fact, we argued that test-optional colleges love test scores even more than do test mandatory schools since they receive a smaller pool of applicants with scores and these applicants can be bigger fish in the small pool. As you so point out, look how many students continued to submit test scores to this “test-optional college.” And your whole argument that test scores really won’t matter at UChicago this year — unlike the last couple of years in which they’ve also been test-optional — is grounded in the fact that UChicago’s admissions dean told you as much?

Oh, Mr. Selingo. Oh, silly goose. That’s so cute that you took his word for it. You do realize he said more or less the same thing the year UChicago went test-optional? Come on, Mr. Selingo. We know you read our blog. We appreciate you. Much of what you say is spot on. But on this one…really?

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