The Dirty Secret Behind the ACT and SAT Tests

Close to 840 colleges and universities no longer require that you submit an ACT or SAT test score for admission.

That’s great news for anybody who bombs on standardized tests, but cynical reasons help explain what’s fueling the test-optional movement. In a story that I wrote for The New York Times, I share the hidden reasons why schools are dropping their requirements for the ACT and SAT tests.

Here’s one motivator: colleges that don’t require test scores can appear more elite. Why? Because the kids with the crummy scores aren’t going to submit them. So the only teens turning in scores are the ones with attractive scores, which ultimately produces artificially high published scores.

When a school embraces a test-optional policy, it also typically sees its applications jump by 10% to 20%. Faced with this crush of applications, the school must reject more teenagers, which also gives the impression that it’s more selective.

Am I suggesting that schools are only motivated for the wrong reasons when they make the SAT and ACT optional? Absolutely not, but families need to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. You’ll learn more about ACT and SAT strategies, as well as how it impacts merit scholarship decisions, by reading my New York Times story.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also blogs about college for

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  1. Great article Lynn. Oftentimes we in the test-prep business find ourselves on the defense of our programs (and sometimes that is justified!) I am glad you cleared up the misimpression that “score optional” schools are only acting in their student’s best interests when they adopt that policy. Clearly the policy helps the schools themselves.


    Graeme Brown