Test Optional vs. Test Blind or Test Free

We discuss the differences and how it affects your college admissions experience.

Test Optional vs. Test Blind

Updated 8/10/21

As the standardized testing landscape continues to shift, and the majority of colleges and universities have announced continued policy changes for the 2021-22 admissions cycle, our team is here to help you understand the latest testing policy news. For some background information about test optional review and what that means, check out our previous post. For an up-to-date list of test optional schools at this time, check out our list here. Here, we will address the latest news and answer some key questions about the testing landscape.

I’ve heard some schools are “test blind” or “test free.” What do these mean and is there a difference?

There is no difference between the terms, though “test free” is considered to be more inclusive. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll use the term “test free” to represent both.

Indeed, a few colleges have opted to go test free. Test free is different from test optional. Under a test-optional policy, colleges still welcome test scores from students who choose to submit them and consider them a valuable data point and part of the review process if testing is available. At the same time, they are confident in reviewing a file without a test score and still rendering a fair decision—in other words, students without scores are not disadvantaged. 

In contrast, if a school is test free, it means they will not consider standardized testing in their application review. Even if you have a 36 on the ACT, or a 1600 on the SAT, and you send it to them, they will not consider it as a part of your file.

Test-free policies are far more rare than test optional. Notable schools with test-free policies include the University of California system, the California State University system, Catholic University, and Loyola University New Orleans. Caltech and Reed have implemented a two-year test-free pilot program, as has Cornell University for three of its colleges– the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the Department of Architecture, Art, & Planning, and the SC Johnson College of Business. 

How will this affect the Class of 2023 and beyond?

More than two-thirds of colleges and universities have stated at this point that they will remain test optional for the class of 2022, though many of the test-optional policies adopted are still only intended to last one more year. However, a number of schools had already been considering making the jump to being permanently test optional, and some of those have launched longer pilot programs—for example, Tufts University launched a three-year pilot program and will be reevaluating after that. For the most part, we expect that we will not know about the majority of testing policies for the class of 2023 for some time (hopefully by next spring), so we encourage rising juniors to approach the testing process as they normally would.

Policies are changing quickly, but we are here to help and will keep you as informed as possible. If you have specific questions about how to navigate test-optional or test-blind admissions, our admissions coaches can help. Contact us to learn more today. 

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