How did your kids fare applying test optional?

Wanted to do a follow up. My DD21 applied test optional to most schools she applied to in Fall of 2020. She had a great GPA, but her SAT scores was not great at all…even after ALOT of test prep, tutors etc… She ultimately got into and went to the school she fell in love with the first time she went. She did get some merit money as well. Happy to report that she finished off freshman year making the deans list both semesters (straight A’s the second semester) and she received more merit money for sophomore year. Her low test score did not define who she would be as a college student NOR did it determine how successful she would be.


I think most kids in most colleges are making very high GPAs…perhaps this is the best reason to say that SAT scores are not needed except perhaps in subjects like physics, math, etc…but even then I think grades are very inflated.


So why do we think some kids don’t test well on the SAT. Why do kids with high GPAs (and in my daughters case it’s not inflated, she worked her a$$ off and attended a rigorous high school). Is it anxiety? I can’t even say it’s lack of prep as she did multiple kinds of prep and did a lot of it and yet her scores only went up a little. She clearly can take other tests just fine.

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Anxiety definitely plays a role. My S21 tested well below his prep but my S24 at around the same number. S24 who’s score was more meaningful just didnt care, was willing to take it again if needed or go test optional so thee was minimal pressure. S21 got distracted by noise and coughing during the test and lost it during the first section and then refused to test again. You can prepare and prepare but it is all about sitting through a 3 hours test.

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My kiddo likes the SAT and ACT, she took the PSAT in 9th 10th and 11th and the Pre-ACT for prep. She liked the ACT better and scored a 34 then took it again a year and a half later and scored a 36. She did the online practice tests the night before. Her 2nd SAT was 1500. She’ll submit the ACT. She wanted to take the SAT again for fun and I told her she was ridiculous.

Some kids are weird and like sitting in an uncomfortable room for three hours frying their brain? I hated those tests and did horribly, but was a good student and graduated magna cum laude from my high school. I didn’t have interest in a selective college and my 20-something ACT got merit at Ole Miss back in the day.

It will be interesting to see what colleges decide to do in the next couple of years. I don’t think scores predict how well someone will do in college, but they can indicate potential. My husband was a terrible student in HS, didn’t ever do homework, but listened in class and did well on tests. Still, he graduated with a 1.9. His SAT score got him into Alabama. He was immature when he went and spent 2 years partying, but moved home, went to community college, got his grades up and transferred where he ended up with a 4.0 in his major and now has his PHD. Without his SAT scores, who onows where he would be.

Seems like without his SAT scores, he would have skipped partying at Alabama before going to community college.


Or never gone to college…

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To respond to the original question, my S22 applied test optional last year - he was accepted at UMass Amherst (attending), UConn, Pitt, American and Syracuse. He was rejected at UMD (did not apply EA - big mistake as they take most EA) and William & Mary (his reach). He had a UW gpa of 3.7 and a weighted gpa of 4.1 with good rigor etc. Despite his mediocre SAT (he did not study) he did well on all his AP exams so it isn’t test taking, per se, that is the issue. In fact he did better on his AP exams than a few friends whose SAT scores were significantly better. All that being said, I think if your child is interested in T50 schools a strong SAT/ACT score will help - for other schools I don’t think it is as big a deal as long as the grades/rigor are there.


Why some good students don’t test well: for my son, it’s dyslexia and dsycaculia. He gets extra time for finals and standardized tests. However, reading and computing are not just slow for him, they are draining.

In his case, the ACT (4.5 hours) is about how long he can persevere without a decent break—not how well he will do in college.

College classes will not be longer than an hour and 20 min, and information will be presented in a variety of ways (not primarily written but spoken). When studying, he uses audiobooks and videos as much as possible, takes frequent breaks, and discusses the material with study partners. I have two daughters in college now, and they have yet to take an exam that was longer than 80 minutes.

I don’t see my son pursuing a job where he must spend 4.5 hours reading/calculating under pressure with one 10 minute break😉. He has plenty of stamina and grit—he’s a long distance runner—but not for his weakness, which is deciphering and manipulating the written symbols we use for letters and numbers.


A student with the concern about testing that you mention may want to check the final exam schedules of prospective colleges, since some colleges allocate three hour final exam periods (although not all courses will have final exams that generally require the entire time).

Also, such a student may want to look carefully at career paths to check whether they have long high stakes gateway exams for admission to the professional education or admission to the profession.

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Thanks—S24 is looking into many factors in finding the right academic fit for him👍🏼. My point was more that that even 3 hours of stamina and focus with no break is not a commonly needed skill in our experience of college. I remember long, hand-written essay exams in history/government, but now it seems that those classes assign “at home” midterm and final papers, which can be composed over weeks using all kinds of resources and your own pacing. I might have the wrong impression, or this could be school specific.

All of my kids have had 3 hour classes and long in person exams (large public universities).

We have three kids( all have above average-superior IQ scores) that needed accommodations in high school. Our daughter, the oldest, needed extra time from kindergarten… the testing she did (scored super low) indicated processing issues and reading ability which would max out at 5th grade level. However, she was superior in math so we funneled her that direction. She ended up top 5% in her high school, took most rigorous classes… AP Language, AP calc bc and AP Physics C senior year with 5 on the exams. BUT could not get above a 29 on the ACT and SAT was worse… even her math score was only a 31. For her test anxiety is a real issue and part of it is that one cannot really “prepare” for the ACT or SAT. With AP classes and high school/college classes there is some certainty of what you need to know for the exams. And chances are the problems on those exams are probably ones you have recently reviewed or encountered.
She graduated college in engineering at the top of her class has been working in aerospace and is now applying for grad school (super happy that the programs she is interested in are test-optional).


Standardize tests by their nature are broad. I remember taking a beginning accounting class in college… the material was not difficult to understand. However, ask me to do a basic problem and it will probably take me a few minutes to figure out how to do it. ACT and SAT are tests you do not have the luxury of time to dig back and figure out hoe to answer; before blowing through all of your time. I do think anxiety really impacts some students (brain freeze) and then frustration etc.
There are smart and accomplished people whose brain works differently. Standardize tests work for many but not all and looking at a kid holistically is the better choice when assessing ability.


Thanks for the knowledge. I don’t think three hour lecture classes or three hour in-person written exams with no breaks are common, but we will ask more questions.

A 3 hour classroom lecture with no discussion/breaks would not be a positive experience for my son. Nor would a 3 hour written exam. However, he would thrive in my daughter’s seven hour history class that involves traveling to historic sites, museums, and archeological digs/labs.

I know there are plenty of people out there who think that being good at standardized tests is the ultimate mark of intelligence/academic ability. I’m glad that I found out first hand how untrue that is. My first child is a classic textbook learner who scored high on the SAT with no prep (I have a similar brain). My other two children have humbled me and broadened my understanding.


In my experience professors usually ask the students if they’d rather class ended early instead of taking a break, I took a lot of 7 - 10 classes and I don’t remember anyone preferring a break. My husband taught a night class for years as an adjunct, always just ended early. My son has an 8:15 - 10:45 pm class once a week, no break.

My D has had a few marathon classes and exams in college. Usually no more than 2 1/2 hours though but still pretty intense.

Hmm. In the (state) college that I know best, plenty of students have sub 3.0 GPAs. From what I have read, grade inflation is worst at the elite universities/colleges.

For more on this topic, I can’t recommend enough the book “Excellent Sheep.”

I have taught several students who went on to be college professors. The three best, as it so happens, had scores on the GRE that were far below their talent. This is what first convinced me of the limited utility of these exams.

At our local public high school, the two admissions last year to top 20 universities both applied test optional, both had no obvious hooks.