SAT and ACT Tests: The Dirty Secret

Last Updated Jul 26, 2009 2:06 PM EDT

More than 815 colleges and universities aren't picky about whether or not a teenager submits ACT or SAT test scores.

That's got to be a huge relief for all those students who bomb on the ACT or SAT test. But let's pause a minute and examine one incredibly cynical reason why schools are no longer making ACT or SAT test scores mandatory: it makes them look more exclusive.

With a test-optional policy in place, applicants with the worst scores don't send them into a school. Duh! In contrast, students with wonderful SAT test scores are eager to share them with colleges.

Why should this matter? Because when test-optional schools publish their SAT and ACT averages, they don't report the missing mediocre scores. Consequently, schools end up bragging about artificially higher scores.

The more students who withhold scores, the more skewed the published test results are. And there are a lot of those kids out there. When a school introduces a test-optional policy, typically 25% to 40% of applicants don't submit their scores.

I wrote about the ugly side of SAT and ACT tests in an article in today's New York Times. Besides reading that article, here are a couple of other things you can do:

  • Don't assume that your chances of admission are zilch if you're considering a school with higher SAT or ACT scores than your own. Most teenagers who don't submit test scores have SAT scores that are 100 to 150 points lower than the typical applicant.
  • At most schools, you won't jeopardize you chances for a college scholarship if you fail to submit test scores, but some schools will penalize you. When I checked with the 37 liberal arts school in the top tier of U.S. News & World Report's rankings, eight schools required test scores to be considered for one or more of their merit scholarships. So be sure to ask what a school's scholarship policy is.
SAT test image by Marlith. CC 2.0.