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Navigating College Admissions: The Current Role of Standardized Tests

Updated: Feb 5

Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of college admissions can be a daunting task, especially with the continued shift towards "test-optional" policies adopted by many institutions in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the flexibility of applying without standardized test scores has been a relief for countless students, there are compelling reasons to consider preparing for and taking the ACT or SAT. In this blog post, we explore the ongoing relevance of standardized tests, including the persistence of scholarship opportunities tied to scores and the enduring belief in their objectivity among admissions offices. For those opting to take the tests, timely updates on the transition to digital test administration for the SAT and the introduction of an online testing option for the ACT are provided. Whether you're a parent or a student, The Whole Kid is here to support and guide you through this intricate journey of college preparation.

Many colleges and universities which went “test-optional” during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have chosen to continue to offer students the opportunity to apply without submitting test scores. This has been a great trend for many students, taking one major chunk of stress off their plates during their junior and senior years of high school. However, there are still some good reasons to consider preparing for and taking the ACT or SAT, especially for those students who tend to be pretty successful on standardized tests. For one, there are scholarship opportunities that are still tied to scores on standardized tests. And secondly, the idea that standardized tests offer an objective measure of applicants is still baked into the mindset of the humans in the admissions offices of most “competitive” but now “test optional” colleges and universities. At the risk of oversimplifying the point:  imagine trying to choose between two students who seem very, very similar to each other, and one of those students has submitted great ACT or SAT scores and the other has submitted no scores. Wouldn’t you at least be tempted to be persuaded by those high scores?  

I’m not pushing for taking these tests—I’m delighted to see students’ stress levels become more manageable. But if you are planning to take ACT or SAT, here are some quick updates: 

1. As most high school juniors know by now, SAT went to digital test administration for the first time with the October 2023 PSAT. The first digital test date for the SAT itself will be in March 2024. 

2. All the major publishers of test prep materials now have materials out keyed to the new Digital Format. Even though the SAT is online, I recommend grabbing a book with some paper-and-pencil facsimiles of the new format, and using the materials in the book as well as the online tests you’ll get access to when you register your book.  For example, the Princeton Review’s Digital SAT Prep 2024 that I’m looking at as I write contains one full-length test and lots of explanatory materials and topic specific practice questions in the book, as well as access to two full online tests. Taking the online tests will give you a “score report that details your performance on a variety of question types” and an “approximate” SAT score.

3. Not to be left behind, starting in February 2024, ACT will also begin offering an online testing option at select locations nationwide. 

4. The paper-and-pencil option will still be available throughout Spring 2024, so if you prefer that mode—or if you feel more comfortable on the ACT than on the SAT—there will be four opportunities to take the ACT between Feb and July 2024.

5. For either test in either format, testing accommodations must be requested and granted by the test company, not by your school. Both ACT and College Board recommend applying for any accommodations six-months in advance of when you plan to take the test.


In addition to running The Whole Kid, Tim Tibbitts now works as an oncology nurse at Cleveland Clinic. Still biased toward paper and pencil, he had to get very comfortable with digital testing during nursing school and while preparing to take the N-CLEX in January 2023.


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