The college application season is upon us, and if you are a rising senior you are probably asking the same big question as your peers: should I take the SAT or ACT? Whether you struggle with tests, are planning on applying to colleges with test-optional policies or you just don’t want to spend the extra time preparing for exams, you may be considering skipping the SAT and ACT. You might think that your GPA and extracurriculars are enough to speak for your abilities and that your test scores don’t matter that much since many colleges are now test optional. Maybe you think your score would be too low to impress colleges and that you are better off not taking it. After all, optional means optional, right? However, college admissions are complicated, and you may be harming your chances of getting in by not taking the SAT or ACT. Here are five things to consider before swearing off the SAT and ACT altogether:

#1 Not All Colleges Are Test Optional Now

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges switched to test-optional policies out of necessity. Now, some colleges are requiring test scores again, so if you are a rising senior, you should check the policies of the colleges you are interested in applying to— you may be surprised! MIT, Georgetown University, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia are all examples of colleges that are requiring SAT or ACT test scores for the class of 2023. Your dream college may require test scores, too. If you have checked the policies of the colleges on your list and they are all test-optional, you may be thinking you are safe to skip the exam. This brings us to the second reason you should still take the SAT and ACT: plans can change.

#2 The Colleges You Want to Apply to Can Change

The regular decision application deadline for many colleges is in January, which means that the last SAT and ACT you can take for your scores to make it to your college on time is in December. For the class of 2023, the last test date for the SAT is December 3. The final ACT test date is December 10. While you likely already have a list of colleges you plan to apply to, that list may change. You could hear about a college a friend is applying to and think it would be a perfect fit for you, too. Or you might reassess your financial or academic situation and realize you need to add some other colleges to your list that better fit your needs. You may apply early to some colleges, get unexpected rejections, and need to apply to more. It would be awful if the college you decide to apply to at the end of December requires test scores and you miss the deadline to take the exam. Taking the SAT or ACT keeps your options open so that you can adapt to any changes that happen senior year. Even if all of the colleges you apply to end up being test-optional, you should still consider taking the SAT or ACT. Test optional can be a very misleading term, and it is important to understand that not sending test scores to test-optional colleges can hurt your chances of admission.

#3 Test Optional Does Not Mean Test Blind

The different terms for testing requirements at different colleges can be confusing, so we want to offer you some insight. The term test required is pretty simple: it means that an SAT or ACT score is required as a part of your application. Test blind is the opposite and means that the college will not use test scores to determine admission. The schools in the University of California (UC) system are the most notable test-blind colleges for the class of 2023. However, the vast majority of colleges have stated their test policy for the class of 2023 is test optional. This is a very confusing term and means something different at every college, but most often it means that tests are not required to apply, but they are considered when determining your admission if you send them. Read the policies of the colleges you are interested in carefully; if a college states that tests are “optional but suggested” or that they are “used among other metrics to determine your admission” you could be penalized for not submitting scores. At a test-optional school, your application could look very similar to another student’s application, but if they chose to submit test scores and you didn’t, they will likely earn admission over you. At test-optional schools, those who chose to submit test scores seem to have a higher chance of admission than those who didn’t submit test scores. The absence of test scores in your application may make the admissions officers question your application and wonder why you didn’t submit scores. They may assume that blank test scores mean your scores were not very high. Taking the SAT or ACT and submitting your scores will take away the guesswork for the admissions officers and will likely raise your chances of admission. Not every college is upfront about how heavily they weigh test scores when making admissions decisions, so don’t leave your admission up to chance and take the SAT or ACT.

#4 Test Scores Determine More Than Just Admission

Aside from admission, test scores can also be used to determine things like placement in the honors college or certain programs. Even the UC system schools that are test blind say they use test scores to place you into class levels if you choose to submit them. SAT and ACT scores are also used to determine merit scholarships that a college gives out to top applicants. College is expensive, and even if skipping the SAT and ACT doesn’t impact your admission, it might impact the amount of scholarship money you are offered to attend the college you want. And it’s not just colleges that use test scores to determine scholarships; outside scholarship programs may use them as well. There are many scholarships that are offered through outside organizations that require SAT or ACT scores to apply for them. By not taking the SAT or ACT you may be preventing yourself from earning thousands of dollars.

#5 The SAT and ACT Can Connect You to Colleges and Scholarships for Free

The college admission process is difficult, and it can be hard to figure out which colleges are a good fit and which scholarships you should apply for. Luckily, both the SAT and ACT have programs designed to help with this process. The SAT has the Student Search Service that shares your information with colleges and scholarship programs so that they can contact you if you are a good fit. It is completely free for you to join and can help you find opportunities that you didn’t know existed. The ACT has a very similar program called the Equal Opportunity Service that is also free to join. These programs are especially helpful if you will be a first-generation college student or if you attend a high school that doesn’t provide as much college admission support as you would like. By simply taking the exam and filling in your profile, you are opening yourself up to a multitude of opportunities.

Hopefully, you now understand how important it is to take the SAT or ACT, even in today’s largely test-optional college admissions landscape. While we discussed how detrimental it can be to not submit your test scores, we didn’t discuss how submitting poor test scores can harm your application as well. What is a poor test score? It varies depending on the colleges you are applying to. Generally, colleges post the average test scores of the previous incoming first-year class. Look for those numbers and the numbers from the incoming class in 2019; if your test scores (or practice test scores) are significantly below average for your desired colleges, submitting your test scores may hurt your chances. Remember that not submitting any test scores can hurt your chances as well. You may be wondering what the solution is if your test scores are not where you want them to be. The solution is simple: test prep! Unlike an IQ test, SAT and ACT tests are predictable and a small amount of preparation can increase your scores substantially.

Preparing for the SAT or ACT can be confusing, and it can be hard to understand which resources are helpful, especially with recent and upcoming changes to the test format. SMU Test Prep is here to help guide you through the process. Throughout the summer and school year, we offer SAT and ACT test prep workshops and courses. Find out more and sign up for email notifications of upcoming test prep dates at smu.edu/testprep. We can’t wait to help you reach your goals!