College Admission Testing in the Test-optional Era: ACT/SAT prep through Compass Education Group is now available at Sage Ridge!

College Admission Testing in the Test-optional Era: ACT/SAT prep through Compass Education Group is now available at Sage Ridge!
Rob Lamb, Director of College Counseling


The College Board has been in the media spotlight lately partly because of the AP African American Studies course that is in development and being piloted in select U.S. high schools through 2024 and also with the introduction of their Digital SAT. Having already been deployed overseas, the digital adaptive SAT will premier in the U.S. and permanently replace the paper and pencil exams starting this fall with the digital PSAT. By 2024 all PSAT and SAT exams will be taken online. Given that the soon-to-be phased-out Scantron version of the SAT has been around for about half a century (since 1972) and the College Board began in 1900, this change marks a major turning point in the history of standardized testing, though other admission exams like the TOEFL and GMAT have been administered digitally for years, too. 

Adding to the gravity of these innovations, our students must also contend with a new test-optional era ushered in by the pandemic: when school test centers shut down en masse in 2020, so did the funnels of student scores to admission offices. Without ACT/SAT scores to consider as a factor in admission decisions, colleges and universities worldwide were forced to pivot and adopt test-optional admission policies. Now three years after this seismic shift the vast majority of institutions remain test-optional with some exceptions like MIT, Georgetown, and the U.S. military service academies, which have returned to requiring tests, and the University of California campuses, which are test-free/blind and don’t review scores at all.

The combination of digitization and test-optional admissions has led senior administrators at Sage Ridge to re-examine the school’s approach to these tests and to partner with Compass Education Group to increase test prep options and opportunities for our students. The rationale is simple: families need to make informed decisions about key factors that affect college admission outcomes and one of these factors remains ACT/SAT scores. Note the pre-pandemic placement of SAT/ACT scores below in NACAC’s State of College Admission annual trends survey results (2018-19) in terms of the percentage of colleges attributing different levels of importance to factors in admissions decisions for first-time freshmen.

Widely adopted test-optional policies raise questions about how applicants’ scores factor into a college admission decision and whether they are more likely to be admitted by submitting them or not. Historically, if students scored within the middle 50% range of admitted students, then submitting their scores was the best practice. But now, on average, roughly half of the applicants to any given college are applying without test scores, so these mid-50% ranges are trending upwards as those applying with test scores generally have higher scores. Furthermore, the shift to test-optional admission raises related questions about how colleges may utilize Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exam results: will these AP/IB scores become a test-optional “Trojan Horse” for applicants who want to showcase their subject mastery in humanities/STEM, whether or not they missed the mark on their ACT/SAT? If you were a college admissions officer at a test-optional institution, wouldn’t you want to review as much information about your applicants as possible to make sound, data-driven decisions? 

The shift in testing policies clearly has resulted in more “above average” (B+/A-) students “swinging for the fences'' by applying to more elite colleges without test scores, thus flooding admissions offices with more applications and driving down their already low acceptance rates even further. Needless to say, there was much disappointment (and also longer waiting lists) for the members of the Class of 2021 who found themselves at the mercy of admission systems in flux, as enrollment managers struggled to predict their yield (the number of admitted students who enroll) in a time of global upheaval. Indeed, the uncertainty surrounding testing as a factor of significance in the admissions process continues and has affected our students’ experiences and perceptions of this journey to higher education, as the slide from Compass Education Group below clearly illustrates. 


So, how do colleges now admit students who are applying with and without test scores and how should students navigate this new test-optional landscape? The answer to the first question is illustrated by the telling data in the slide below, again from Compass Education Group:

It appears from the limited data we have that on average qualified applicants with test scores are now admitted 1.5 to 2 times more often than those who do not submit test scores. And even though this data is limited, the new patterns that are emerging suggest that submitting strong scores will provide our students with leverage in the college admissions process and, therefore, test preparation can be an essential part of maximizing their options. And this brings us to the second question and how students navigate this new test-optional landscape. If students are interested in improving their ACT/SAT scores and willing to put in the time and effort necessary to do so, then it is in their best interest to prepare using the free Official SAT Practice by Khan Academy and/or the courses and resources available through Compass Education Group. 

Many independent schools nationwide currently partner with Compass to offer their families expert advice and guidance to navigate the post-pandemic, test-optional landscape (their free guide has a sampling of the schools they serve on page 97). To that end, Compass is offering a special presentation exclusively for Sage Ridge families on March 2nd at 6:00 pm where you can learn more about test prep options for all Upper School students, admission testing trends, and more. Here is the link to register for this presentation as well as classes (for juniors) to prepare for the June 3rd SAT (April 1–May 28, 2023), or the June 10th ACT (April 8–June 3, 2023). More information about Compass summer enrichment classes for rising sophomores and juniors will be shared at the March 2nd presentation as well, so please join us for that event to learn more. Please let me know if you have any questions about these great opportunities or the next steps by emailing me at


Future Issues: Topics TBD, possibly parents’ role in college search and application process; Resource: Handling College Admission Decisions: A Sidecar Parent’s Guide


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