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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

College Standardized Testing Policies: Test Free, Test Optional, Test Flexible, Test Preferred, Test Required

Standardized test form
Standardized testing policies vary by college

College standardized testing policies for admission differ by institution and can change annually.

When creating a balanced college list, it is important to consider a college's standardized testing policies for the student's specific application year.

The first step is understanding the various standardized standardized testing policy options. Notice the nuances with each option below, as policies can differ slightly by college.

Test Free

Sometimes also called Score Free or Test Blind, Test Free typically means that standardized test scores of any kind are not considered in that college's admission process. Some test free colleges will still consider scores during course placement, however.

Some schools that label themselves Test Free are actually only referring to the ACT or SAT, and might consider other scores if provided, like Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) scores.

Test Optional

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a relatively small number of colleges were test optional. Currently, many are. Test Optional means that ACT or SAT scores will be considered in the admission process if they are included in the college application.

Test optional policies can be confusing because policies vary among colleges. For example, some colleges are test optional but only consider scores if a student is on the cusp of being either admitted, deferred, or denied. Some colleges clearly state that scores are only a small consideration if sent. Other colleges consider scores only when it helps a student's application. Many colleges, however, automatically consider scores when provided, and some of those lean toward Test Preferred (see below) for some or all majors.

Text Flexible

Some colleges have Test Flexible policies. Test Flexible means that students can choose to send scores beyond the ACT or SAT, like Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) scores.

Text Flexible sometimes also includes a Test Optional component (meaning it is permissible to not send any scores). Other times, students are required to send scores of some kind.

Test Preferred

Some colleges with Test Optional policies are up front about being Test Preferred. This means that students can choose whether to send scores, but the college considers ACT/SAT scores to be an important part of the college application. The bottom line at Test Preferred colleges is that students with strong test scores typically have an advantage over those who do not send in scores.

Test Required

Test Required means that scores are required for all applicants or the vast majority of applicants. In recent years, some colleges that were temporarily Test Optional during the Covid-19 pandemic have chosen to return to Test Required status. Typically, Test Required refers to ACT/SAT, but may also include Classic Learning Test (CLT) at some colleges.

Resources for understanding standardized testing policies: provides a list of testing policies by college and updates it regularly. FairTest is a great starting resource.

College websites can sometimes be helpful to understand a school's policies and philosophy surrounding standardized testing.

At Growing2College, we are constantly collecting data, researching, reading, and listening. We are paying attention to changing policies, but also to the philosophy of college admissions offices and administrators, to help our students make educated decisions related to standardized testing and choosing colleges. To learn more about how we can be helpful in your student's journey to college, request a free 20-min consultation.

Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    

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