Test Optional changes at BS - belatedly following the college trend

I posted this in the thread about which schools are going TO, but am moving this because as @skieurope correctly pointed out this type of post was leading that thread off topic.

It’s interesting to see the TO trend at BS quickly unfold. A couple of weeks ago it didn’t look like any were going that direction, and then the dam broke. And I think everyone wonders what that means.

I think there has been a shift in the college attitudes since this started happening in that world (maybe 3 months ago? I dont remember exactly). At first the attitude seemed to be that they were TO, but it still hurt you to not have a test. I spoke with someone who was told on a Zoom call by an admissions person at Brown shortly after their decision that a more accurate description would be “test preferred”. I haven’t seen or heard that anywhere since, but I don’t know if things really changed or if they just got their messaging under tighter control.

The vast majority of colleges eventually fell in line and went TO for this cycle. They seem to fall into 2 camps. Some, like Brown and Princeton for example, gave off pretty clear vibes that they weren’t happy about it and that even though they weren’t requiring it, it was to your benefit to submit. Tulane pretty much said that unless USNWR changes their ranking criteria that they wouldn’t take more than 25% of the class without a test. Others seemed to embrace the idea and made the changes for a 2 year cycle or even permanent.

There are a couple of differences between BS and colleges going into this.

First, I think the pre-pandemic trend has been away from testing and that has been stronger at the college level from what I can see. There are a lot more people firmly opposed to testing at that level. Some very selective schools like Bowdoin have been TO for a very long time. Others, like Rochester, announced that they were going TO before the pandemic hit. I think part of why BS seems to be behind on this trend is the demographic of kids applying. By and large, even the FA kids (like mine) have parents that REALLY care about education at the BS level. Otherwise why are you even considering it? So you don’t have the large percentage of kids who are completely outgunned when it comes to the testing prep and home support.

Another difference is that the way it is being administered in the current Covid world. D21 has had 3 ACT tests canceled, and a 4th where they changed the testing center to a rural (not near any hotels) location 2 hours away. She had to get up at 4:00 a.m. for that test, and she is lucky she even got a score at all. Many kids have shown up at testing centers that were never notified by ACT that the location closed, I had a buddy drive his boy 2 hours to a location shown on his admission ticket only to find a note taped to the door, and about 100 really angry people in the parking lot.

The home SSAT seems to alleviate this for the vast majority of kids who want to take it. So I’m actually surprised by these changes. I think it is a bit like the college situation, no one wants to be seen as the heartless place that makes you risk your life to take a test, so there is a bit of a FOMO effect making it a race to go TO even without great evidence that it is necessary.

Cate was the first to take it a step further that I can see. They are test blind this year. Their website says test scores will not be considered.

It will be interesting to see what TO really will mean everywhere else. How optional is optional? Thoughts?

To be clear on concept, this thread is about TO for prep schools. College discussion should be posted on the thread in the college oarents forum

OP- I’ve already chimed in but since it was wrong place/wrong time, I’ll rewrite for posterity and discussion sake.

I think the schools who thrive on their stats to solidify their prestigious ranks will prefer to see a kid with a test score. The kids with higher SSATs will generally be the kids with higher ACT/SATs. And prospective families DO look at those as part of their BS selection criteria. That’s just the way it is.

I think if the majority of colleges truly stop considering/posting standardized test scores for their student population, then this may cause a trickle down effect to the BS forum. But who knows? And how long will this truly take?

I honestly like standardized testing as a means to level the playing field and get an idea of grade inflation/deflation amongst schools throughout the country. That was the original intent. However, I feel this process has been bastardized since my generation where we were not able to continually retake a test until we got a perfect score. So, as of late, I don’t feel the tests are valid representations for what they were intended. And the entire process has spiraled out of control. The CB likes to make money from them, schools like to brag on their student bodies’ average scores, etc and it’s created this expectation to have to “ace” the test and beat the system to be admitted. Hence, the recent scandals.

I haven’t seen that situation in BSs yet. Very few, if any, superscore the SSAT, although there are opportunities to retest.

Ultimately, though, I think the SAT scandals coupled with the pandemic have enabled a call to rein in the madness and look at more than just numbers when admitting kids. Most BSs do this anyway, but it may further the trend to the more sought out schools that the SSAT should be optional and not have as much emphasis placed on it as other aspects of the application. It will be interesting to see.

Meanwhile, DD is scheduled to take her SSAT…maybe she’ll submit her scores at the TO schools- maybe not. ?

Are there BS that DON’T superscore? Andover, Exeter, Choate… do. At the TSAO event we attended in 2011, that’s where we heard the term “superscore” for the first time; it seemed every school present encouraged taking the SSAT multiple times to enable each applicant to present their best set of independent scores.

Standardized tests were once meant to indicate an applicant’s grasp of a common body of knowlege. IMO, that is no longer the case. With the option for prepping, multiple sittings (and not just a retake in case of illness), and superscoring, I think test results more accurately reflect improved test taking ability than anything else. I think each school that accepts standardized tests should see all scores and absolutely take into consideration how many times it took an applicant to achieve that final score set. Maybe some do, I don’t know. What I do know is that the tests are no longer measuring what they were designed to measure, so going TO at either the BS or college level is fine with me.

@ChoatieMom DS and I must’ve applied to the wrong schools. Lol. We were told no superscoring.

Or maybe I’m not understanding superscoring correctly. But I agree that going TO is ok. I just don’t trust that “optional” means they aren’t looking at scores and won’t be biased by either a spectacular result or a horrendous one.

DD, like DS, will be a one and done. And she’s not a “test taker” like he is. I just feel like this approach is the appropriate one.

I think TO means that they won’t even know about the horrendous one. That just stays in the pocket. Positive results will still count almost everywhere I am guessing (except Cate).

I think where this may diverge from college is that there may be even more of an assumption that no test submitted = tanked test. Because really beyond the cost of taking the test, there is no reason that 99%+ of kids can’t take it with the at home version. I guess another reason would be if you were just philosophically opposed to standardized testing. Which I am, but not so much that I am willing to disadvantage my kid to make some Quiotic moral stand.

Contrast the SSAT home option with ACT and SAT, which by all accounts have been a trainwreck this year. I talked to 3 senior parents last weekend that have zero tests on the books, not for lack of trying. Theoretically I think they are all taking it when it is offered during the school day in a few weeks at our LPS. If that gets canceled, 2 won’t take it at all, the 3rd only if NCAA is still requiring it (I don’t recall if they are or not).

The flipside is that standardized testing seems to be less of a thing at this level anyway. So maybe for that reason it will be easier for the schools to give it up. The concern there is that a kid slips through the cracks and ends up completely over his or her head. My D’s transcript is probably more A+ than A, with nothing lower. I am guessing she will get a good rec from her teachers. If that’s your only thing to go on, you would assume that she could handle Exeter or Andover. You would be incorrect.

I won’t rehash my arguments above and elsewhere, but I agree completely with @buuzn03 and @ChoatieMom that the tests should be a great equalizer. That is the intent. But that isn’t the reality, and I don’t know how to unscrew up the system. If there is a test, people will find a way to game it.

All if this is why my kids didn’t take the SSAT when they were applying to boarding schools. We basically used all of these arguments as to the reasons why the test just wasn’t going to happen for them. It worked out well for us, and as I mentioned in another thread, I really am surprised that we seemed to be the pioneers in that decision.

@dadof4kids - With your D’s grades (assuming she is in honors and/or advanced classes), I would argue that she probably would do fine at Exeter or Andover - perhaps not at the tippy top, but still do well enough. The difference is that the fit probably isn’t there with her personality.

When we were looking at schools we knew my kids had the grades and EC’s to get in. The difference was that they didn’t want to be in a crazy competitive environment. If they went to these schools, I’m certain they’d do just fine, however in my mind, mental health was more important than grades, so we had long discussions about that.

Back to the SSAT… I’m glad that schools are now looking into this a little more. While I know it’s just a pandemic response, maybe it will change the way things are done further down the line, too.

Until or unless schools become “testing not accepted” and/or stop reporting test scores, the schools that claim to be “testing optional” are really not optional for certain applicants. Because for every athlete, legacy applicant, and other kid that checked off boxes for the school and did not submit a score, there is a nothing-else-special kid who had to crush the test and push up the school’s average test score (and reputation).

While I agree that the tests have mutated into something different than their original intention, I still think their is value in a common measure. Sure, it’s just a measure of how a kid prepares for the test (and the resources at their disposal), but it still serves to weed out those who can’t even do that and fall short on a common task. That’s why we read so many posts on CC about why there is no increased chance of admission for a 85% vs 99% on the SSAT. But there is a difference between a 50% and 85%.

Now the TO schools will just admit the athlete who would have gotten a 50% and admit the non-athlete kid with few ECs and a 99%.

I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that students who don’t have those the resources at their disposal fell short and should be weeded out.

No, definitely not. SAT and ACT scores have been most closely correlated to family income. My point is that the wealthy kids actually better score well, or be weeded out…even if mommy or daddy went to school X or donated $Y to the school.

And then there is that weird Character assessment the schools have been adopting in the past few years. I am guessing that is going by the wayside?

If the “required” test is optional, then the “recommended” test that was always administered at home is no longer a thing? No secret, I am not a fan, but it was supposed to be filling some of that void that the SSAT doesn’t measure. They could keep that assessment as a stand alone if they thought it was valuable. Says a lot if they dump it.

@Altras And there are schools weeding out the unhooked kids with 99% and loads of EC’s that comes from an over represented areas of the country. Geography, like legacy and sports matters ( though my kid who was rejected from 2/4 with 99% plays three varsity sports, go figure.)

The 95-99% kids aren’t all nerds with zero interests or EC’s. Quite the opposite. Sorry, but I just hate it when people determine high test scores mean kids did years of test prep and are uni-dimensional. Some kids test well. No more no less. It’s a single factor and not going to get you in.

There is no magic formula.

To answer @siv from the other post…I agree not posting a score may be detrimental. I have one applying to college and one to BS at the same time. In both realms, I don’t believe TO is test blind (although, I believe Cate went test blind). I think a decent test score can boost an applicant’s chances when being compared to a similar candidate without a score. But…it is just one piece of the puzzle. So, we aren’t going to fret over it. If DD does well, it’s going on the app. If not, we will provide another essay or recommendation.
DS was one of those kids @Happytimes2001 described. 98% SSAT with ECs and two sports (he’s been a varsity sport kid all four years since enrolling) from outside of NE who ended up with a 1 of 11 acceptance rate.
Test scores really are a small part of the application. To answer the question, we are still going to have DD take the SSAT. We are just not going to put too much emphasis on it.

Oh. And @CateCAParent i saw one school DD is applying to that is requiring the character skills thing…That, to me, is the most ridiculous thing. I mean…isn’t that what the interview is for? Are AOs not good judges of character? idk. I’m truly hoping we can avoid that altogether.

I think if the AOs really could judge someone’s character in 30 minute meeting (or zoom call these days) they would have much better job than AO by now. Not that I think character skills set is any better at this, but some amazing kids do not interview well and vice versa. And the online aspect now adds another wrench to the whole thing I imagine.

I believe the self-assessment may have started at Choate when Ray Diffley was AD. I know our son completed it during his application round in 2011.


There is good science behind the assessment. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s perfectly “safe” to allow your student to complete the assessment as one more supportive piece of the application puzzle. No applicant’s admission decision hinges on the assessment.

While I would tend to agree that it probably isn’t a major factor, clearly it is considered, otherwise it wouldn’t be requested or even required. And if it is considered, then for at least a few applicants a decision probably will hinge on that assessment.

To a certain extent, there isn’t really any one factor that anyone’s decision hinges on, unless maybe you are an Olympic caliber athlete or your dad’s name is on the new science building. However, it’s a combination of all of the small things. This helps paint a picture, for better and for worse. If it couldn’t be the make or break factor for some students, they wouldn’t request it.

Just my opinion, and full disclosure this is my first round at BS so I don’t have any special info there. But looking at it logically it must be at a factor that is considered or they wouldn’t clog up the admission files with information that has no value.

I didn’t say it didn’t have any value, and the article clearly states how the assessment is used. Like all components of an application, schools use each piece to try to understand how a particular applicant will benefit from and contribute to their communities. If the assessment, like any other piece of the the application, indicates an applicant would or wouldn’t be a good fit for that school, then the assessment is a valuable tool. I would want my child to attend a school where all components of his application align with the school culture and community. Conversely, I would not want my child accepted to a school where he didn’t fit, personally or academically. If the self-assessment, like interviews and LORs, can help a school understand aspects of a student not captured by the quantitative measurements, it’s useful. But like any of those other tools, no single one is likely to be the sole reason for the admission decision.

I think some people may fear this component because it is fairly new and the one least able to be controlled. I remember Mr. Diffley talking about how the assessment was a “no-stakes” tool-- there truly were no right or wrong answers, and applicants should fill it out without any coaching and without taking more than a second or two on each answer; gut response was the most appropriate choice. I also remember some parents at the time feeling that there was a driven, type-A personality outcome that certain schools were looking for because there was always a choice for each question that described that personality type, so the assessment could be gamed. But, there were also choices for other personality/character types. Assuming that a school was looking for just one or valued one above others revealed more about a parent’s mindset than what the school was trying to measure. Mr. Diffley explained why that was not at all the way the assessment was used. Sure, some kids would fit the driven stereotype and others fit other profiles but, just like athletes and mathletes, the school was looking for a mix of ALL personality types. If anything, after the assessment became part of the student file, it had continuing value post-admission in helping to reveal learning/behavior styles when students struggled and needed either academic or personal advisement. I think I also remember that students could opt to take the assessment at Choate post-admission, as Mr. Diffley was primarily interested in the results for ongoing research.

In any case, if anyone here is concerned about negative repercussions from the assessment, don’t think of it as one more way your child may not measure up because it’s not. Instead, it’s one more way for each school to understand something more about your unique child. And then, let it go. At best, it’s a positive, at worst, a neutral.


I take this comment to mean resulting in a negative rather than a positive decision. I think it makes most sense to conclude that if the assessment were ever a reason to keep anyone out, that is because something was exposed that indicated the school and the applicant were not meant for each other – and that is a positive outcome. However, from the assessment I saw those many years ago, it could not possibly reveal anything at all negative about a student, just what type of student s/he might be.

FWIW regarding the character assessment – my DD2 didn’t submit one at all last year and it didn’t seem to affect outcomes. No one “required” it but most schools “strongly encouraged” it. (Explanation above about it being more about research at this stage makes sense.)
I would guess that for this year particularly, this is even more of a non-issue, since so many schools are TO, and the assessment costs extra if you don’t take the SSAT. I have zero plans to have DD3 submit the character assessment this year…

Last year, I asked an AO if the CSS was used for admissions decisions. The answer was “It’s added to his file for the admission reading process, but it isn’t required. Not something that will make or break an application, but always appreciate when they’re submitted.”

Both of our kids submitted it. Both got into multiple schools (including the one above) and didn’t get into multiple others. Completely anecdotal and take with a grain of salt. But it seems more cooperative to just send it.