From the APs and Subject Exams to the SAT and ACT: Which Tests To Take, and Why

In response to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges are increasingly announcing plans to adopt test-optional policies in 2020. Applicants will no longer be required to submit standardized test scores. While there are clear benefits to this decision, families should be aware of how this impacts an applicant’s admissions strategy and their chance of winning admission.

Why Go Test-Optional?

Typically, students take standardized tests during the spring semester of their junior year, allowing them plenty of time to prepare and incorporate their test results into their college admissions strategy. However, due to the social distancing guidelines forced by the pandemic, nearly all testing sessions have been canceled this spring. As a result, high school juniors cannot take the SAT or the ACT as per usual.

In response, many colleges have adopted “test-optional” admissions policies, meaning that submitting test scores has become elective as opposed to mandatory. One of the unknowns during the pandemic is how schools will now evaluate recruited athletes and dole out scholarships. Typically, a test score is required.

Whether your child is seeking a scholarship, applying as an athlete, is a straightforward applicant, or anything in between, because the news about COVID-19’s changes every day, it is imperative to check with your child’s colleges to confirm each institution’s admissions policy and criteria.

And Another Option: Test-Flexible

Pre-pandemic, some colleges, and universities were already test-optional, or test-flexible. A test-flexible policy allows students to submit other scores beyond the SAT or ACT such as AP tests, SAT subject scores, and also International Baccalaureate (IB). In this case, applicants can select what tests and scores they want to submit. This gives students a chance to shine in areas in which they excel, and minimize weaker credentials. 

How the New Testing Guidelines Impact Your Child’s College Chances 

For both students, and the colleges, there are benefits to applying without SAT or ACT scores.


Test-optional policies allow colleges and universities to adopt a more holistic approach. Top-notch students can now stand on their academic credentials and extracurricular activities alone.  Most parents do not realize that even a ho-hum ACT or SAT score can mar an otherwise standout application.  

With this new policy, students no longer have to be in the top percentile of test-takers to be college-competitive.

In particular, a test-optional policy benefits any student who scores very poorly or panics on timed, anxiety-inducing standardized exams. 

Our takeaway? Your child may fit an all too common student profile: your son or daughter is a high-achieving superstar in the classroom but is diminished by their performance on the SAT or ACT.  If this is your child, skipping the SAT and ACT is a smart option!

But, there are disadvantages... If your child performs well on standardized exams, then they should seriously consider taking the test.  It can propel their application into the admit pile, even at a test-optional school. And, if your son or daughter has a mediocre or weak GPA, submitting a strong ACT or SAT score can compensate. It demonstrates evidence of academic lifting power. 

During  COVD-19, What Tests Are Still Available? 

SAT and Subject Tests: 

Due to COVID-19, all tests up until August have been canceled. However, according to the College Board, they have pledged a test date for every single month for the remainder of 2020. Starting with August 29th, they’ve added September 26th as a new test date, (international and domestic). The remaining SAT dates are October 3rd, November 7th, and December 5th. Learn more about their revised schedule here.  


According to the ACT website, summer tests for June 13th and July 18th are still scheduled. For the fall of 2020, the ACT plans to offer at-home exams. Get up-to-date- information on these new formats here

AP Exams:

AP exams are still being administered and can be an all-important part of a student’s college application, showcasing scholarship and earning a student tuition-saving college credit. Additional test dates have been added, and a 45 minute, virtual at-home test is currently available. Learn more here

Is Your Dream School Going Test-Optional? 

Given these pros and cons, students need to be strategic about which test scores to include in their applications. Experts suggest that ACT and SAT scores should only be submitted if they would place applicants in the top quartile (the top 25%) of the previous year’s acceptances. 

But the question of whether to submit an ACT or SAT score, and other exams, should depend less on admissions statistics, and more on boosting your child’s chances. 

Subject tests reflect your child’s mastery in a required high school subject. Plus, strong subject test scores enhance a college application.  For some majors - computer science and engineering, for example - subject tests remain mandatory.  As for AP exams, these tests demonstrate high-level academic achievement and applicants into the likely-to-admit pile at selective schools. 

Seek Expert Help

Planning a college application strategy under normal circumstances can be overwhelming  But in these uncertain times, expert help can provide critical guidance. 

Every student needs to ask themselves: What qualities - and tests -  will make my application stand out? Unsure? Schedule our free 30-minute college admission consultation and learn how your child can position his application for success.