Navigating the Testing Landscape: A Parent’s guide

As someone working in and around standardized testing for over two decades, I’ve witnessed the rapid evolution of testing policy in admissions over the past few years. This guide will help you navigate these changes and create a solid testing plan for your student.

Everything Changes, Every Year?

As parents, we might recall a time when nearly all colleges required standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. Fast forward to today, and the landscape is in constant flux. Since 2020, there’s been a significant shift toward test-optional policies. However, recently, several selective colleges have reinstated their testing requirements or have strongly recommended test score submissions.  

  • Eight high-profile schools have recently reinstated test-required policies
  • Some selective test-optional colleges are “strongly recommending” test score submission
  • That being said: the majority of colleges remain test-optional

This fluid situation means each family needs to stay flexible and work to understand the nuances of each institution’s testing policy. For best results, your testing strategy should be adaptable to the changing environment.


Understanding Each School’s Context

As a parent, it’s natural to wish the college admissions process were formulaic, making it less stressful and easier to understand. However, it’s mostly the opposite – human, messy, and subjective. Each college and university has its own priorities and goals, leading to varying admissions criteria. While many colleges remain test-optional, families must consider each school on their list individually. This even applies to Ivy League schools.

For those schools that are test-required or test-free, the answers are simple. For the majority of schools, that are still test-optional, remember that the college admissions process is nuanced and subjective: each institution has its own priorities and goals. When evaluating a school’s testing policy, here are some signals to consider:

  1. Admit rate.
  2. Language on the admissions webpage.
  3. Student score submission statistics.

Using admit rate as an example, you can start to infer the relative importance of test scores in a test-optional process:

With admissions webpage language, you’ll want to look to see if there’s any specificity around the school’s test-optional policy. Some schools, like the University of Chicago, have very clear guidelines about how scores will or won’t be used in the process, but unfortunately many will give a stock answer- “send scores if you think it helps”- which isn’t very helpful at all.

Finally, the ‘wisdom of crowds’ can be a useful signal, particularly around those schools in the 15%-50% admit rate range. All of these institutions submit admissions data annually to the federal IPEDS system, and one of the data points is how many of their applicants chose to include SAT or ACT scores. As you can see below, even amongst schools of similar selectivity, there’s a wide range of behavior:

For those test-optional schools with more applicants submitting scores, it makes sense to place a higher priority on getting to a strong score, while those with fewer may indicate an application environment where testing will not have as much importance (but may still play a significant role!)

Remember, these are guidelines. Each student’s case is unique, so leverage your school’s college counseling resources.


Crafting Your Testing Plan

For rising juniors, the best next step is to build a thoughtful testing plan. You can think of your testing plan like a road trip:

  1. Determine your starting point.
    • Take a full-length practice test for both SAT and ACT – Revolution Prep offers free practice tests for all families. [Practice exam schedule]
    • Compare your results to determine the best fit.
  2. Identify your destination. 
  3. Plan your route.
    • Decide on time and effort for test preparation, particularly for the test-optional schools on your list.
    • Consider professional guidance for making a test prep plan – Revolution Prep’s advisors are experts at helping families understand their situation. [Schedule a free consultation with an advisor here]

Navigating the shifting landscape of standardized testing in college admissions can be challenging, but with the right plan and resources, students can absolutely make their best decisions. Revolution Prep is here to assist every step of the way, from practice tests to personalized advising. Stay informed, stay flexible, and ensure your student is prepared for whatever changes come next in the admissions process.


By Ben Neely
Ben serves as Revolution Prep’s Chief Research and Impact Officer, learning and speaking about admissions testing and the challenges students face in striving for academic excellence. After beginning his career as a high school math teacher, Ben has held roles in curriculum development and engineering management, and has spent more than 20 years helping families make their best decisions around the learning process. Ben earned his B.A. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley and has been with Revolution Prep for 15 years.