Who Didn’t Submit Test Scores?

The Common App has previously reported that 43 percent of applicants reported a test score in an application, down in one year from 77 percent. Now it is explaining which students were most and least likely to submit scores.

September 13, 2021
(Getty Images)

When all the agonizing over test scores was done for this admissions year, 43 percent of students had submitted SAT or ACT scores, according to a report from the Common Application. That's down from 77 percent in 2019-20 -- a dramatic change in the year of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Common App has previously reported those numbers, but it has now released a report on who is still submitting test scores and who isn't.

  • Reporting was "far higher … among applicants living in more affluent communities, as defined by local median household income in applicants’ local ZIP codes."
  • Reporting rates "were highest in several Southern and Midwestern states and lowest in several Northeastern and Western states."
  • Underrepresented minority students and first-generation students were less likely to report than were other students.
  • While test scores declined for all groups, "more selective member institutions, both public and private, more often received test scores with applications than did less selective colleges."
  • "Individual applicants sometimes employed different test score reporting strategies across their various applications," the report said. "Specifically, nearly one in four (24 percent) of applicants reported scores in some, but not all, of their applications (up from 4 percent last season)."

Test-optional and test-blind admissions (in which colleges will not look at test scores) have been growing in the last decade, but the practices truly took off in the last year as one impact of the pandemic. Taking the SAT or ACT was impossible for many students -- even students who had registered for the exams -- as the College Board and ACT were unable to administer the exams when many testing centers closed. Many colleges and universities in turn decided not to require testing -- in some cases for a year or two, in other cases changing their policies permanently.

Nearly 90 percent of the Common App's members (900-plus colleges) did not require the SAT or ACT this year.

In terms of states, the report said that the 10 states with the highest percentage of people submitting scores were: Mississippi (over 75 percent), Arkansas, Kansas, Alabama, Kentucky, North Dakota, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and Missouri.

The states with the fewest people submitting scores were: Maine (less than 25 percent), Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Oregon, California, New Hampshire, Maryland and Connecticut.

In terms of socioeconomic status, continuing-generation students have always been more likely to report scores than first-generation students. In 2019-20, the rates at which they reported were 78 percent and 69 percent, respectively. This year, that nine-point gap doubled to 18 points, 48 percent versus 30 percent, the report said.

Comparisons of underrepresented minority students with white and Asian students followed the same pattern, with the white and Asian students more likely to report last year (by 77 percent to 71 percent), but this year the numbers were 47 percent to 31 percent.

With regard to the students who submitted scores to some colleges, but not all, the report called the figure "striking."

The report said, "While only 4 percent of applicants demonstrated such 'strategic' test score reporting behaviors last season, 24 percent did so in 2020-21."

"As colleges and universities consider whether or not they will require test scores in the coming years, they should contemplate the degree to which: a) they perceive the information garnered from test scores as valuable; b) test score requirements are imposing barriers, perhaps disproportionate barriers, upon students who would otherwise seek entry to their academic communities; and c) the information they seek from test scores is valuable enough to justify the barriers that requirements may impose," the report said. "Finally, institutions should continually monitor their admissions processes to determine whether components aside from standardized testing requirements may be undermining their stated aims to expand access and opportunity to a more diverse cohort of students."

Robert Schaeffer, executive director of the FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which opposes standardized testing, said he was struck by the high rates for groups that have felt excluded in admissions.

Related Stories

"The high percentages of nonsubmitters among historically underrepresented groups is particularly gratifying -- clearly allowing all students to apply without ACT/SAT scores removed a significant barrier to access," he said.

He added, “The Common App report is further evidence that test-optional policies are ‘the new normal.’”

He said FairTest will release an updated tally today showing that 1,700-plus accredited colleges and universities will not require ACT/SAT scores from applicants for fall 2022 admission. "That's essentially the same number as for fall 2021 admissions," he said.

The College Board did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

The ACT released this statement: "This new report from the Common App reflects the changes we’ve seen in test-taking and score-sending behaviors among today's college-bound students. This is important new data to understand and consider, but this report also leaves some related and essential questions unanswered."

The ACT added, "Moving beyond application behavior, it will be important to understand the relationship between score sending and college enrollment, particularly given differences among student groups and the multiple complexities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting into college is only one piece of the puzzle. Whether test-optional policies may be setting students up for success -- such as getting through college and earning a degree -- needs to be evaluated. We will need ongoing evaluation of these policies, especially as we move beyond the pandemic, to understand the full picture of the college-going process from application through admissions to graduation for all our students, and particularly for students who left the college-going pipeline at various stages."

What do the data suggest for student behavior (and college behavior) going forward?

Preston Magouirk, a data scientist with the Common App, said, "First, I would expect to see a continuation of the trend of students applying to college without test scores. More colleges and universities are using test-optional policies this season, and there is now a full season’s worth of evidence that students can apply and gain admission without these test scores. The share of students reporting without scores may or may not increase this season, as it is not yet clear whether, or how much, students faced challenges accessing testing sites over the past several months of 2021. Nonetheless, as the option to apply without test scores is both widely available and socialized to a greater degree this year, I expect it will remain a popular option."

Magouirk added, "Second, I expect that we will continue to see some students make different test score reporting decisions across their various applications. To clarify, we saw that 24 percent of 2020-21 applicants reported scores in some, but not all, of their applications. This finding may reflect differences in requirements at the institutions to which applicants are applying. It may also reflect a sort of strategic thinking on the part of applicants about where scores may have been most beneficial to their candidacy. As test-optional policies are even more common this season, I would not be surprised if we saw a similar pattern in student behavior in 2021-22."

Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top