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Test OPTIONS-all

With most schools offering a test optional route, many of our students wonder why they would bother putting in the time, effort, and financial resources necessary to submit test scores. To provide some insight, ESM Prep Counselor Carley Nuzzo starts by answering four questions, all of which lead us to the answer: OPTIONS.

What makes a test score good?

In general, a “good” test score is one that lies within a competitive range for a given school based on previous years’ admitted students. But it’s not as straightforward as it seems: reading this data has become more nuanced in recent years with the test optional policy because reported data faces selection bias problems. Reported scores skew higher because applicants with higher scores are more likely to include test scores to be considered as part of their applications than those without. This is where we come in. ESM Prep can help you make sense of this and what it means for you and your decision to report scores.

Another case where submitting scores would benefit a student’s application is when a student’s grades are not indicative of that student’s academic abilities. Maybe the student went through a personal trial freshman year of high school, struggled with online learning, the list goes on: test scores are a great way to substantiate the claim that the student’s aptitude is much higher than his/her transcripts reflect.

Why take the tests at all?

We know admissions officers are human beings, so we have good reason to believe that they will wonder why you’re not submitting scores if they can infer based on your demographic information that you would have access to testing. In that case, admissions officers would likely come to the conclusion that a student without test scores either did not attempt to take the exam or did not perform well enough to submit them.

Now, “wondering” can’t technically be considered in an admission decision, and it holds much less impact compared to submitting uncompetitive scores. So, if scores really aren’t competitive, I would still advise any student to go test optional.  

As discussed above, what is considered a competitive test score can vary for each school. Therefore, even if you don’t end up with competitive scores for Princeton, you could have competitive scores for Boston College and submitting these scores to BC could greatly improve your chances of acceptance.

Basically, the logic is to submit scores if they benefit your application and go test optional if they do not. Your ESM Counselor can help you make this determination.

The important thing to note, however, is that not taking tests at all will cut you off from any potential benefit of submitting test scores before knowing what that benefit could be.

When to take the tests?

We recommend starting the test prep process as soon as the requisite math classes are completed to give students the most time to determine which test to take, how to prepare for it, and ultimately, to get that score up to its highest potential.

Is there a downside to taking the tests?

If students plan ahead and allot the amount of time needed to prepare for and take their chosen test, there is no downside. The only downside would come from procrastinating and then trying to squeeze test prep and test taking into a busy schedule that could then result in less time for other priorities, such as classes and grades. This is why ESM counselors begin talking about starting the process early!

Many students cite their fear of schools seeing “bad” scores as a reason to bypass test prep. The great news here is that the test optional policy gives students the power to decide whether or not schools see scores and which scores they see! This is also true for AP and IB scores as well, for which there really is no downside as most students do “test prep” to succeed in the class.

“Good” Test scores > No test scores > “Bad” Test Scores

ESM test prep can help you get your best possible scores and ESM counselors can help you determine which scores will strengthen your applications to which schools!

Our philosophy here at ESM Prep is to always put our students in the best possible position with the most options to do so.

Closing the door on standardized tests limits students by taking one data point demonstrating strength as an applicant off the table. Take those tests, and decide from there where it makes sense to send the scores!