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Is It True That Colleges Pay Less Attention to Test Scores than In the Past?

act college admission


by Counterpoint Test Prep 


Standardized tests have never truly been popular. They came about as a way to give students who came from disadvantaged or overly tough school districts a chance to objectively prove themselves. Unfortunately, the attempt at creating diversity has backfired and the opposite effect has occurred. As a response, some schools have begun to remove the standardized test score requirement.


In this post, we’ll look at why you can apply to some schools without test scores. We’ll point out how you might be at a disadvantage against higher qualified applicants, and how some scholarships might be affected, as these are typically tied to your ACT and SAT scores. 




The Leader of the Pack?


Getting a near-perfect standardized test score will help a student stand out. But more and more schools are beginning to understand that high scores will not necessarily mean high achievement in college. For that reason, colleges will weigh your score against the other factors that you reveal to them in your application, such as your course strength and extra-curricular activities.



Getting a high score can be an amazing way to get a school’s attention. Top-ranking schools will want to court your application, and many merit scholarships are determined by a set threshold test score. Furthermore, some schools will even decide how to place you in the core classes based on your scores, especially subject tests.


RELATED ARTICLE | The Counterpoint ACT Test Prep Guide



Test Optional Schools


The COVID pandemic brought about a tsunami of questions surrounding the merit of standardized tests, has had the effect of making schools rethink their admissions process. When the SAT and ACT tests were canceled during the pandemic years, many schools went "test optional."  Many colleges moved to drop their test score requirements.  


For those students who felt like standardized testing is not a good reflection of themselves or their potential to be successful in college, they felt like there was a new opportunity for them.  They thought that they could be in the running for some schools that previously they would not have been able to get into. And while we might agree that's a positive outcome, that change has also led to a significant increase in applications at almost every university.  In fact, Cornell, which in April 2020 became the first Ivy League school to shift test-optional, saw applications rise about 30%, to around 67,000 total since making the decision, according to Jon Burdick, its vice provost for enrollment


But one thing to keep in mind is that, with increasing application pools, schools are becoming even more selective than they have been in the past. Unsurprisingly, the result has been a record number of rejections, with top-ranked colleges reporting low double- and even single-digit acceptance rates.  For example, the percentage of admitted students at Boston College is currently half of what it was only five years ago. 


So while some schools, like Michigan State University, moved to remove their requirements for testing for the foreseeable future, keep in mind, these policies are not the norm. Most schools must still have an objective benchmark with which to compare students, and the ACT and SAT remain among the easiest ways to do so. Colleges, especially highly selective ones, want to see students taking the initiative to tackle the ACT and SAT.


Not having a test score to use in conjunction with the rest of your application can limit the college’s ability to evaluate your application. Without a test score, the admissions reader will have to scrutinize your application more closely, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your other strengths.



How Schools Use Standardized Test Scores for Admissions


Every single school is different. but there are some patterns. So, even if a school has gone test-optional, that doesn’t mean they have relaxed their other standards.


Typically, in a less-competitive school, the very first thing they will look at on your application is your GPA. They will immediately weigh your GPA in terms of the courses you decided to take and whether your high school has a reputation for easy or tough grading.



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Your “weighted” GPA — or what the admissions department feels is the most accurate way of looking at your GPA — is a yardstick that can be used to gauge how well you will be able to handle the institution’s typical course load.


The SAT or ACT score comes next. An admission department’s impression of your academic abilities will be colored by the score it receives.  In effect, your score is one means by which a school can compare you to other applicants in the rest of the country.



RELATED ARTICLE | The Counterpoint ACT Test Prep Guide



An extreme contrast between bad grades and good test scores or vice versa will make the puzzle of what type of student you are harder to fit together. Schools generally like it when the score can confirm their earlier suspicions. In fact college admissions officers are scared of “grade inflation” being hidden when students do not submit scores. 



One more thing to consider is that, depending on the school and student, the scores one gets on the SAT or ACT can make or break their chances of getting a scholarship. While each scholarship is unique in determining who is eligible, scholarships  can be the deciding factor in determining whether someone is able to afford a particular college.




Which Schools Care More About Test Scores?


Like various other factors on a college application, the criteria for what makes a good test score are largely dependent on what schools want. That is to say, a good ACT score at one school may fall below the mark at another, based on the admissions standards set by each school. 


Larger schools have many thousands of applicants and therefore need a method of weeding out lower-achieving students. A simple number like a test score can be helpful for making decisions more straightforward. Likewise, schools that are extremely competitive or who expect the highest levels of achievement will have to resort to test scores to make a more objective comparison.  According to website, an Ivy League school will require a score of 30 or higher if you want to be competitive.


By contrast, smaller schools will be more likely to weigh everything in the application fairly equally. This fact means that test scores will still be judged in line with your other achievements and supplemental materials.


Some colleges and universities have gone on record as saying that their admissions departments have made efforts to place less emphasis on the importance of test scores, so a score of 18 might be sufficient.  These schools are far from the majority, and more likely than not, they must still look at scores when forced to choose between two nearly identical applicants.


As for test-optional schools, they truly try to emphasize that you will not be penalized if you opt to leave off your test scores. Whether leaving out those scores will make it more difficult to assess an applicant’s submission remains to be seen.



In Closing


One thing remains a surety: while SAT or ACT scores may not be a requirement for your college application, for most schools, they certainly will play out as a strength for those who submit a great score. And if you have a solid GPA, took challenging courses, and have a great essay, the colleges you apply to are more likely to select you for admission. 


We Can Help You Get the Score of Your Life!  Fortunately, Counterpoint offers extensive ACT test prep courses designed and taught by actual teaching and test-taking professionals rather than by people who simply did well on the ACT. We can help students not only score well on the ACT, but also be better prepared once they get into the college of their dreams.


In the years we’ve offered our wide range of ACT test prep courses, our results have spoken for themselves. Counterpoint students earn an average 25-27 on their ACT exam, while the national average is 20-21. While Counterpoint students in general average about 40% higher than everyone else, top Counterpoint students score in the top 5-15% nationwide. With high scores like that, students are eligible for a wider variety of colleges and even some scholarships.


For building confidence in the core subjects, writing the college essay, and completing the application, click here to see the complete menu of courses and services we have to help you get the score of your life!


For the record - We’re successful only when our students are. That's why you can always count on us for ACT success. Our courses are entirely comprehensive, and we’re always happy to offer individual help. We believe students deserve every edge they can get when applying to college, and the ACT test is an essential step in that direction. Academic success is right around the corner, and nothing can get students there quite like the Counterpoint Advantage.


Meet The Authors, Co-founders of Counterpoint College and Test Prep:

Dr. Kay Van Der Burg

Dr. Kay is a National Board certified Master Teacher and has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She has had training at both Harvard and Stanford universities. She taught Advanced Placement (AP) coursework and was the district SAT/ACT prep lead for one of the highest ranking districts in the country. She has been tutoring students for more than two decades and is the co-founder of Counterpoint Test Prep.



Damien Van Der Burg, CHPC

Damien has a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of California Santa Cruz, and a Master’s degree in biology from Point Loma Nazarene. He has taught high school science and math courses for 15 years, including Advanced Placement (AP) coursework. In addition to co-founding Counterpoint Test Prep, Damien is also an investor, a certified high performance and leadership coach and founder at Damien Vanderburg Coaching.




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