“Does my child need to take the SAT/ACT?”

FAQs for Test-Optional College Admission

Walking your child through the college admissions process can be overwhelming. From SAT/ACT test prep and admissions essays to college tours and financial aid applications, the to-do list is long and complex. When your child’s school of choice turns out to be test-optional, you may wonder if you can strike the SAT/ACT from your list altogether.

We understand the desire to simplify the process, but skipping out on these tests may not be the best option for your child. In this blog, we’re tackling your common questions about test-optional schools. Read on to learn what you can do to increase the chances of your child receiving that coveted acceptance letter! 

What does test-optional mean?

Before we get into the application process for test-optional schools, let’s get on the same page about what that term means. Each school your child applies to will fall into one of three categories:

  • Test-Required – These colleges require that you send in an SAT or ACT score in order to be considered for admission.
  • Test-Blind – These colleges do not look at SAT or ACT scores for their applicants. 
  • Test-Optional – These colleges leave it up to each applicant to decide whether or not to submit scores. 

While test-optional schools have been around for a while, we’re seeing more and more schools move in that direction, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Going test-optional is a way for colleges to offer flexibility after a year in which a global pandemic made it much more difficult to prep for and take the SAT/ACT.

Plus, going test-optional has greatly increased the number of applications those colleges and universities have received. Kids are throwing their hat into the ring at selective schools where they would not have otherwise applied because they didn’t have the test scores. With more applicants, colleges can be more selective and improve their admissions statistics, so we suspect many schools will stay test-optional for a while longer.

What do test-optional colleges consider when admitting applicants?

All colleges, test-optional or not, try to look at the big picture when reviewing applicants. Your child’s grades, strength of curriculum, extracurricular involvement, and performance in college-prep courses will all be taken into account along with other factors, especially essays. 

At a test-optional college, you get to decide whether or not the SAT/ACT tests will be part of that big picture review. If you opt not to submit the scores, they’ll simply consider the rest of your application in full without them. When you do submit them, however, they will weigh those into the decision. We don’t know how heavily test-optional schools weigh submitted scores, but we do know that they take them into consideration.

Whether or not your child should submit scores will depend on the overall strength of an application with or without the scores.

Should my child study for and take the SAT/ACT? 

We highly recommend that most students study for and take the SAT/ACT, even if every school on their list is test-optional. If they take the test and don’t like their score, they can simply not submit it. There’s no harm done.  However, if they take it and score well, they can strengthen their application and perhaps be admitted to a school where they would have otherwise been waitlisted or rejected.

(You may be asking, “No harm done?! What about all the lost time and effort?” If you’re worried a strong score is too out of reach to be worth the time and effort, we recommend starting with an inexpensive mock test. Then, you can review the results with our specialists and determine what a realistic goal is for your child.)

Right now, grades, especially in college-prep courses, are the most important factor on applications for college admissions. While extracurriculars have always played a role in applications, the challenges of the last year have eliminated or greatly reduced students’ abilities to participate in sports, clubs, jobs, and volunteer opportunities. With this in mind, there could be extra weight put on grades. A strong performance on the SAT/ACT can bring some balance back to the application and, to some extent, make up for less-than-stellar grades.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to put a test prep plan into place for your child. If your child is a junior, it’s not too late to start studying for a test in the late spring, summer, or even fall. If your child is applying early decision or early action with a November 1st deadline, they can take the test as late as September or October of their senior year and still have the test make it on to their application.

Since grades are the most important application factor right now, your child may need space to finish their junior year strong first. They may need to use the summer for test prep and take the ACT in mid-July or the SAT at the end of August. Then, they can focus on current schoolwork without added interruption or stress. 

Note: The ideal timeline for test prep and test-taking will depend on your child’s particular courseload, needs, and plans. Click here to schedule a free consultation with our team, and we can help you chart a course that works best for your student.

Should my child submit his or her SAT/ACT scores to a test-optional school?

Once your child studies for the SAT/ACT and achieves his or her best-possible score, you’ll be able to decide whether or not to submit those scores to test-optional schools. Again, this will depend on how strong your child’s application is without vs. without those scores. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend submitting scores if they fall within the upper portion of the mid 50th percentile of the range that a school typically accepts. 

For example, James Madison University accepted applicants with an average SAT score of 1120-1290 and an average ACT score of 23-28 last year. If you apply to James Madison and your score falls within the upper 50th percentile of those ranges, we recommend submitting your score. Your score can be an additional data point for the school to identify you as a good match for them. It can also set you apart from similar applicants who didn’t submit a score.

If your child takes part in our college application coaching or test prep tutoring, we’re happy to help you consider the options and make the best decision for your child. 

Just click below to set up a free consultation and learn more about these services.

At the end of the day, performing their very best on the SAT/ACT can never hurt and just might help your child get into their test-optional school of choice. And performing their best starts now with a clearly-charted plan for test prep and test-taking!

We hope we’ve helped answer some of your questions about test-optional schools, but we also know that the college application process is overwhelming. Remember—you don’t have to do it alone! Our college application coaches and test prep tutors can help your family navigate this important process with more confidence and less stress. Just click here to get started with a free consultation. We’re here for you!

3 Changes to the ACT That Could Help Students Succeed

​If the SAT/ACT is on the horizon for you or your child, you may want to know about some
recently announced changes to the ACT. Read on to learn about these three changes and how they could help students succeed in showcasing their full potential to colleges and universities.

#1: Online Testing Allows for Faster Turnaround in Scores

For decades, students have sat down to take the ACT with paper and pencil. While that
traditional method will still be available, students will soon have the option to take the test online at test centers across the country. (All changes will go into effect September 2020.)

The online test will feature the same format, content, and timing of the pen-and-paper exam, but there’s still a considerable benefit to testing online. Instead of waiting weeks for their results, online testers will get their scores in as little as two days.

This faster turnaround time enables students to use their score immediately on college
applications or, if they’re unhappy with the results, make a plan right away to study, retest, and succeed.

#2: Section Retesting Allows for Second Chances Without All the Stress

The ACT features four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science (plus an optional Writing section). While retesting has been available to students for quite some time, that retest has always required students to retake the entire exam. This is time-consuming and stressful. Students must continue studying for all four sections or risk pulling up one section’s score only to see another section’s drop on the retest.

According to the latest ACT announcement, however, students will soon be able to just retest
the section or sections they’d like to improve. This gives students a second (or third) chance to put their best foot forward without the stress of studying for and retesting all four sections.

Not only will retesting save students time both in test prep and on actual test day, but it will also make the exam more coachable. Students who identify an area of difficulty will be able to seek out a tutor to help them focus their efforts and fine-tune their scores in one area until they succeed.

#3: An ACT Superscore Allows Students to Showcase Their Full Potential

Right now, the ACT’s composite score is calculated by averaging a student’s scores in each of the four sections. Each sitting of the test produces one composite score, so a student needs to perform their very best in every section all in one test day to achieve their best possible composite score.

​Soon, however, the ACT will calculate a superscore—the average of a student’s four best section scores across all attempts, whether those attempts were full tests or section retests. This allows students to showcase their full potential and achieve a higher score to put on college applications.

Not all schools accept a superscore, but many do. And with the ACT now making the superscore a part of their official scoring process, we may see even more accept this “best result” score in the near future.

Does the ACT Now Make It Easier for Students to Succeed?

Many students will find these changes do, in fact, make it easier for them to
succeed—especially if they’re willing to work hard to improve their scores in individual sections.

​The ACT wants students to choose their test over their competition (the College Board’s SAT), so they’ve announced these changes to offer students a better experience and ensure them that the ACT will represent their best work.

That being said, these announcements are only one piece of a larger puzzle. Several key differences in concepts and approaches determine which test will better reflect a student’s strengths and potential.

Which Test is Best for Your Child, the SAT or ACT?

Because every school in the country accepts both the SAT and ACT, it’s important to know
which test a student will score best on. About one-third of students score better on one test over another on baseline exams. For the other two-thirds, it’s personal preference. I’ve always found it’s a best practice to have students sit for both exams in a practice format (we offer these for free in the community as do other organizations) to determine their ideal fit. By choosing one test to prepare for instead of both, students can hone their efforts and save time, money, and a whole lot of stress.

Important Dates for Rising Juniors & Seniors: Mock Tests

Is your child a rising junior or senior? If so, now’s the time to register for a mock SAT or ACT test.

For rising 11th graders, summer mock tests are the perfect opportunity to establish a baseline score and discover what kind of study support they’ll need in the year ahead. For rising 12th graders, summer mock tests are one last shot to practice with the content and pacing before sitting for the real deal.

Click any date below to get more details and sign up for a mock ACT or SAT test this summer.

Mock ACT on Saturday, June 29th

Mock SAT on Saturday, July 27th

Mock ACT on Saturday, August 3rd

Mock SAT on Saturday, August 17th


Not sure which test or timeline is right for your child? We can help! Just click below to schedule a free consult call with one of our test prep experts.

Get Free Advice

Test Prep Timeline: April 2019

We’re just about wrapped up on SAT/ACT season for the spring; however, there are still a few final opportunities to register for a second or third test if you’re not happy with your scores.

Here’s what’s available:

  • SAT Option 1: May 4,2019 (late registration deadline is April 24th)
  • SAT Option 2: June 1, 2019 (registration deadline is May 3rd)
  • ACT Option 1: June 8, 2019 (registration deadline is May 3rd)
  • ACT Option 2: July 13, 2019 (registration deadline is June 14th)

And as always, we offer SAT and ACT practice tests for free to help your child prepare to get the best score possible.

Here’s what the schedule looks like for April through June if you’d like to register:

Register for a Mock Test


Test Prep Timeline: March 2019

Here’s what you should be thinking about this month.

Sophomores should be…

You guessed it: continuing to focus on their regular schoolwork. A practice test and some periodic exercises from an SAT or ACT workbook certainly won’t hurt, but now is the time to focus on school.

Juniors should be…

Just about finished with their paired set of SAT/ACT tests this spring. Depending on when you signed them up, most Juniors will have taken at least one of the two spring tests we recommend.

If they haven’t yet, or if they need another shot at the test, don’t worry. There’s one more opportunity for each test this spring, along with some summer options available as well:

  • The next available SAT test date is May 4th (the registration deadline is April 5th).
  • The next available ACT test date is April 13th (you can still register with a late fee).

Reminder #1: We offer SAT and ACT practice tests for free in the community. Our experience has been that this is the best possible way to help your child prepare for these exams and improve their score.

You can register for one of our upcoming Mock Tests here.

Reminder #2: If your junior doesn’t feel great about their most recent SAT or ACT performance, we have a Just for Juniors Test Prep Tune-Up package available.

Our tutors can use the test they just took to identify specific weaknesses, spend each session on targeted instruction aimed at boosting their score, and help them identify how to best use the limited study time they have left before their next try.

If you’re interested, click the link below to contact us:

Contact us about our Test Prep Tune-Up Package

Test Prep Timeline: February 2019

Here’s what you should be thinking about as your child prepares for the SAT or ACT this year.

Sophomores should be…

Continuing to focus on grades. Although you can be thinking ahead about what your sophomore will need to do to get ready for the SAT/ACT next year, the best thing you can do right now is to focus on supporting them as they learn and earn high marks in their classes.

Juniors should be…

(1) Registered for a paired set of SAT/ACT tests this spring. Because most kids end up taking two tests, we recommend scheduling them one after another.

As a reminder, if you’re interested in taking the March 9th SAT, the late registration deadline is February 27th.

Or if you’re taking the ACT, the April 13th test deadline to register is March 8th.

(2) Taking a mock test. Practice tests tend to be an afterthought for most families, but in our experience it’s the number one way for kids to improve their SAT/ACT scores.

Not only will it help your child identify their weaknesses and learn where they need to improve, it’ll also help them reduce test anxiety on the day of the actual test, because they know what to expect.

We offer these for free in the community. You can register for one of our upcoming Mock Tests here

Register Here

Also, if you haven’t picked whether you’re going to take the SAT or the ACT, now’s also the time to do that. Feel free to contact us or call (703-934-8282) and we can help you determine which one would be best based on your child’s practice test scores.

Test Prep Timeline: January 2019

Here’s what you should be thinking about as your child prepares for the SAT or ACT this year.

Sophomores should be…

(1) Reviewing PSAT scores (if they took it) as well as any practice test scores to determine areas of strength and weakness. Ask questions like:

  • Did they have enough time to finish?
  • Did they score particularly well in any of the four areas (reading, writing, math no calculator, math with calculator)?
  • Did they do poorly in any area?

(2) Thinking ahead about what type of test preparation they’ll need moving into Junior year. Mostly though, just continue to focus on grades.

Juniors should be…

(1) Taking a mock test. We offer these for free in the community. It’s the best way to get prepared to “peak” in the mid-to-late spring, which is historically the best time for students to take either test.

You can register for one of our upcoming Mock Tests here:

Also, if you haven’t picked whether you’re going to take the SAT or the ACT, now’s also the time to do that.

Feel free to contact us or call (703-934-8282) and we can help you determine which one would be best based on your child’s practice test scores.

(2) Registering for a “paired” set of tests in the spring if you haven’t already. Because most kids end up taking two tests, we recommend scheduling them one after another (for example, registering for the March 9th SAT followed by the May 4th SAT).

As a reminder, if you’re interested in taking, for example, the March 9th SAT, make sure you’ve registered by the February 8th deadline.

Or if you’re taking the ACT, the February 9th test deadline to register is this week on Friday, January 11th.

After you’ve knocked those items off the list, if you’re looking for a systematic, one-on-one program to get your child as prepared as possible to maximize their score this spring, our Test Prep Program might be right for you.

Click the link below to reach out and let us know, and we’ll walk you through the process, step-by-step.

Contact Us

The Roadmap To College

Helping high school students prepare for the SAT and ACT so that they have the most options available to them when it comes time to apply to college is one of the cornerstones of our business here at Educational Connections.

But regardless of whether you work with a tutor or through a test prep program, all parents and students should at least know what the process entails.

So I decided to take one of my most popular parent workshops, and condense it down into a webinar you can watch at your convenience.

In this webinar, I aim to answer 3 questions for you:
  • Which test should my child (is the SAT or ACT better)?
  • When should my child take it?
  • What’s the best way to prepare?

I also cover some important information on what college admissions counselors are looking for in 2018/2019, how your child’s combination of grades and scores impacts their application, and what to do if they’ve already taken a test or two.

Click the video above or click the link below to learn more.

Watch The Webinar

Then, if you’re interested in getting your high-schooler set up with a test prep plan that lines up with the roadmap I outlined, click here to learn more about our Test Prep Program.
Our highly credentialed test prep tutors help both you and your high schooler navigate the entire SAT/ACT process and develop a customized plan that will ensure they have the best chance of earning the score they need to get into their college of choice.
“We are so thrilled! Maddie’s ACT score went from a 29 to 34! Before, UVA was a big stretch, but now it’s a real possibility. We couldn’t be happier. Michael was an amazing tutor and really connected with Maddie and motivated her. We also love her new AP Stats tutor. You’ve really helped both my girls throughout high school. Thank you!” ~ ECT Test Prep Parent