Effects of Test-Optional Policies

Understanding the Effects of Test-Optional Policies

Since its founding more than 60 years ago, ACT has served its nonprofit mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success. ACT is committed to working alongside admissions and enrollment professionals and the students we all serve to ensure the best and most holistic uses for the ACT test to achieve that goal.

ACT recognizes that for many institutions test-optional college policies are a consideration in the admissions process, and it's understandable for colleges to adapt their recruitment practices and admission policies according to market and competitive pressures. However, alongside multiple other measures of readiness, the ACT test continues to provide valuable information to students and institutions making important decisions regarding admission and enrollment, scholarship awards, course placement, and academic support.

With core values pursuing equity in education and placing the student at the center of everything it does, ACT seeks to correct misconceptions about the value of test scores, how tests are used, and who benefits from testing. This document outlines key information and research that is relevant to understanding the effects of test-optional policies.


  • Studies empirically confirm that the ACT measures what students should have had an opportunity to be exposed to and to learn in high school in order to be ready for postsecondary success. Hundreds of studies have been conducted establishing the validity of ACT scores across institution size and type and student background.
  • Admissions decision-makers at four-year institutions, including test-optional ones, still rely heavily on test scores to source students and ensure student success and retention, saving students valuable time and money in their higher education journey.
  • Many institutions say the reduction in reliable data due to test optional has led to increased difficulty in their candidate evaluation and admission and enrollment processes, including sourcing and recruiting students – including students from underserved backgrounds who may not otherwise be recognized – and making decisions regarding major/program or class placement.
  • Many test-optional colleges and entire states have maintained their merit-based scholarship programs that still require the submission of a test score.
  • Systemic, widespread high school grade inflation has accelerated in recent years, underscoring the importance of using an objective measure in admissions and scholarship application decisions.
  • Admissions officers believe that students who wish to submit their test scores should be afforded the opportunity to do so because the ACT data provided to institutions is of great value and gives deeper insights into ways to better serve a student’s academic and support needs.
  • The best predictor of college success is not high school grades nor test scores alone but rather the combination of the two.
  • Among students with the same high school GPA, students with higher ACT scores are substantially more likely to earn a college freshman GPA above 3.0 as those with lower scores.
  • ACT test scores reveal incongruity in GPAs for 25% of students – meaning, for one in four students, their performance on an objective assessment is not what would be expected based on their (more subjective) GPA.
  • Higher education leaders at some of the highest-profile institutions that are moving away from standardized tests simultaneously acknowledge that ACT scores are a better predictor of college grades than students’ high school grades are.
  • Research has shown that test-optional policies do not accomplish their desired effect regarding student diversity, having no significant effect on the diversity of the applicant pool or the academic strengths of students applying to college.
  • Much more robust national aggregate reporting will be necessary to fully measure the net change in college participation levels across student groups. Gains for some institutions will likely be unequal and offset by losses elsewhere.
  • Students from families with higher incomes tend to perform better on the test, but most of this is due to differences in high school coursework and grades, school characteristics, and noncognitive student characteristics like study habits.
  • Generally, test prep increases ACT scores, but the increase varies and is usually very modest.
  • Across the country, more than one in five registrations for the national ACT test are completed using a fee waiver. These students are also eligible for free test prep through ACT.
  • Through state and district testing programs, millions more students take the test at no cost to them, during the school day, at their own school. Many will be the first in their families to go to college and earn a degree.