Standardized Testing: To Take Or Not To Take?


Mrunmayai Bobade
Updated on Mar 09, 2023 10:31 AM IST

With standardised tests becoming optional at top worldwide institutions, understand how taking the tests for admissions abroad can make a difference in your application, increasing your chances of being selected.

Standardized Testing: To Take Or Not To Take?

Did you know that taking standardised tests benefits not the applicantin getting admissions abroad but also the university to which they are applying?

If you decide to study overseas, there is an importantthing that you should know before you apply to your dream university: English proficiency is one of the essential elements that determine whether or not you qualify to study at the university. Universities abroad usually accept standardised English proficiency exams like the IELTS Academic, TOEFL, Duolingo English Test,PTE Academic, etc. to ensure that international students applying from non-English speaking countries would be able to comprehend the teachings delivered in the English medium. But this is not the only criteria to assess an international applicant's suitability for a university-level programme.

For a long time, universities had made it compulsory to submit a standardised exam score as per theprogramme level of the applicant. GMAT, GRE, MCAT, or LSAT were required for graduate programmes, and for undergraduate admissions, majorly ACT and SAT subject tests were required. Only recently, colleges have made these assessments of standardised tests optional. Why take standardised tests if they are made optional? Or, Whether or not a student should take these tests forgetting admission to prestigious institutes worldwide,is a million-dollar question spiralling the minds of several international students.

While excellent English abilities are necessary for international admissions and job success, this article focuses on why taking the standardised tests can be advantageous for international applicants for admissions abroad.

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Let us discuss the kinds of standardised tests that have been made optional, their impact on admissions, and the reasons to take them.

Why Standardised Tests Are Made Optional for Admissions Abroad

Apart from the pandemic, other factors also played a hand in making standardised exams optional for admissions to foreign universities. Whether this is an attempt to be test blind or blind to equal opportunity, has been up for debate. Experts believe that making standardised tests optional was done for these reasons:

1. Pandemic Impact

To study in the United States, standardised examinations such as the SAT, GRE, and GMAT constitute an important element of the educational process. These examinations were once required for evaluating students' profiles, but due to the pandemic's residual effects, unattainable test centres, inadequate demands for studying for these exams, delayed final exams and results, etc practically every university made them optional.

2. Economics for the Global Universities

It is well-known that international universities heavily rely on the number of students enrolled in an academic year. Even prestigious schools and institutions require overseas students for a variety of financial reasons. One of the primary reasons is that international students pay more tuition compared to local candidates. As a consequence, they chose to accept applications that did not include a standardised exam score.

3.Cost of Exam Prep

While the debate was still on whether standardised tests for admissions abroad should be made optional, an argument gained traction that only wealthy students could benefit from these tests. It was so because they could afford to hire top-notch teachers, spend a significant amount of money on preparation, and achieve high scores that would allow them to gain admission to prestigious colleges.

As a logical consequence of these advancements, several universities have opted to eliminate the necessity of standardised testing.

Why are Students Avoiding Standardised Tests for Study Abroad?

Penn, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Stanford, and Dartmouth have all recently proclaimed that they will continue to be test-optional through the high school class of 2023, with Cornell going much farther and being test-optional through the high school class of 2024, and Harvard until 2026!

Many students believe that standardised examinations have lost their significance because many prestigious international universities, such as Harvard and Princeton, have made them optional for admittance. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Cambridge, on the other hand, recently announced that they will come back to square one by reversing the Covid-era policy that made the standardised tests optional, and thus MIT and Cambridge will require applicants to take the ACT or SAT for upcoming intakes in 2023.

These exams have been a crucial criterion for overseas students to be evaluated. However, since the pandemic hit and access to test centres were cut off, a majority of the universities went test-optional. Taking it as an opportunity many international applicants avoided and are still avoiding taking any standardised tests.

We are thrilled to announce that our experienced faculty members have successfully trained many Indians to achieve excellent results in standardised tests and directed them to attend prestigious universities in the world.

Standardised Testing: Pros and Cons List

Everything has two aspects, otherwise coined as pros and cons. Given below is a comparison table discussing the advantages and disadvantages of taking standardised exams while planning to study abroad:



Time-saving process for universities

Time-consuming process for students

Cost-effective for wealthy students

Cost-intensive for poor students

May help in the visa approval rate

Might create difficulties in visa processing

Variety of university/course options to apply to

Limited university/course options to apply to

Better acceptance rate in the top tier universities

Difficult to get into the top-tier universities (but easy access to mid-tier universities)

Even if many universities have gone test-optional, students may still choose to apply with a test for the aforementioned reasons. Let us discuss these merits and demerits of taking the exams in detail:

Standardised Testing Pros

1. Taking standardised tests eases profile evaluation for universities. While the admission committee is sifting through thousands of applications, candidates providing standardised test scores carry the probability to get selected faster.

2. Students belonging from wealthy families have the time and money for these tests along with access to proper resources and preparation services, making it cost-effective. This essentially means they may have no economic disparity in sitting for the test.

3. If a university has accepted an applicant for a programme even though they have not taken the standardised examinations, taking one could increase the visa acceptance rate.

4. One of the most flexible aspects of 'applying to multiple universities abroad, is the opportunity that arises only after sitting for standardised exams. Students can apply to numerous universities abroad if they have standardised exam test scores.

5. Having taken the standardised tests increases the acceptance rate to get admission to top-tier universities abroad. These assessments open up pathways to some of the prestigious universities in the world like Yale University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and so forth, provided a student must meet the uncompromising meritorious standards individually predetermined by such universities.

Standardised Testing Cons

1. Preparing for standardised tests is a time-consuming process. Students willing to fly abroad as soon as possible might want to go test free given that they meet all the other criteria. Therefore, taking one without absolute necessity would prove to be a waste of time.

2. Money is what money does, but not for everyone. Students belonging to middle-class families or applicants from low-income backgrounds may find standardised test fees as another expense added to their pocket. Hence, due to money management issues, some might avoid sitting for the exam.

3. While many factors may create difficulties in a students visa processing, failing to provide standardised exam scores could be one of them. Even though universities might admit a student without taking the standardised tests, visa interviewers may need a student to have opted for one.

4. Not taking the standardised tests shrinks up the possibility to apply for multiple universities abroad. Many universities have not made these assessments optional, thus not sitting for tests naturally narrows down or limits the possibilities to apply only for such institutions which have kept standardised tests optional.

5. Not having taken the standardised tests may stand as a stumbling block which makes it difficult to get into the top-tier universities abroad. Though students might easily get acceptance to mid-tier universities, not sitting for standardised tests may permanently close doors for top-tier universities abroad.

While the cons might sound to be more relevant to some students, it is important to understand the weightage of the pros in many cases. Whatever side of the debate you take on the benefits and drawbacks of standardised testing, you will certainly have to take a couple of them during your education.

Being well-versed in the subject can help you be a better-informed and prepared test taker. Knowing what these tests' goals are, as well as their potential drawbacks, will give you an advantage as you go through the procedure.

Nevertheless, universities and students should always consider standardised examinations as an additional data point that can provide some perspective on student learning, rather than as a value judgement on the student.

Should Students Take Standardised Tests for Admissions Abroad?

Colleges are having difficulty picking pupils as the number of applications has increased by thrice. Lets look at a recent example ofthe University of Michigan, one of the leading colleges in the United States has sent letters to parents informing them that their child's admission has been postponed because the number of undergraduate applications has increased significantly, and they are unable to process all of them in the time allotted.

Now the dilemma or the burning question is, "Should a student still appear for these when standardised tests for admissions abroad are optional and institutions accept applications directly?"

Definitely! Taking these standardised examinations will not hurt you; rather, it will act as a prevention for admissions abroad. Take a look at theGeorgia Institute of Technology's recently announced admission results; practically all of the individuals that were chosen applied with their standardised test scores. This is a real example of why taking standardised examinations is exceedingly advantageous for international students.

Many universities may forgo tests for international students provided they can offer other proof of knowledge or competency. For example, your school may waive TOEFL or IELTS requirements if you can provide transcripts demonstrating that you completed an ESL programme or graduated from a high school where English was the sole language of instruction; others may accept documentation of living or working in an English-speaking country as proof. If you do not fulfil English-language testing standards, you may be given conditional admission and invited to enrol in a specific programme for non-native English speakers. If you ask, many universities will be lenient in a variety of contexts.

Is English Proficiency Required for Successful Admission to Top International Universities?

English is one of the most widely used languages in modern society for all official and unofficial purposes.Although billions of people are familiar with the language, they are not adept as it isnot their official language. So, yes, international applicants are required to submit standardised test scores for admissions abroad if English is not their first language. These exams assess an individual's understanding of the English language - both grammar and vocabulary, as well as its application.

Almost all elite andIvy League institutions, regardless of the topic of study, demand four years of high school instruction in English for undergraduate admissions. All parts of the language test, particularly reading and writing, are crucial for admission success. The majority of colleges affiliated withprestigious universities have made English their principal language of instruction and study. That is why English proficiency has become such an important aspect of admissions abroad.

How Taking Standardised Tests Benefits Indian Students?

In addition to English proficiency examinations, such as IELTS, TOEFL, ACT English, and SAT (RW), Indian students will benefit from taking standardised tests.

Since the exams are made optional for coming academic intakes, admissions officers have to depend significantly on academic results, work experience, and other activities like extracurriculars, sports, etc. Indian aspirants may be at a disadvantage in this scenario as the educational system of global institutions, in general, is not designed toward fostering such subjective traits in its students.

Thus, even though these examinations are formally considered optional, students must take them. If a student takes a standardised test and scores well, it helps the admissions committee to make an informed decision.

Even though the universities have informed that even without these exam scores, the applicants will not be at a disadvantage. Yet, on an individual basis, it is a good practice to make your application stand out in a competitive applicant pool.

On top of that, another benefit of taking standardised tests for admission abroad is to impress the admissions committee with your extraordinary standardised test scores. How? If a students academic performance/scores are low but they do well in a standardised test, then it will add icing to the cake.

It will showcase the admissions committee, the applicants dedication, hard work, and determination to achieve extraordinary scores, and rather the low academic scores do not define their actual potential. Ultimately, it will increase ones chances of studying at the desired university abroad.

For the past two years, Covid-19 and virtual schooling have made the selection process extremely turbulent. AP examinations (equivalent to the SAT) have been cancelled or delayed as a result of many schools adopting pass/fail outcomes for multiple disciplines and grade inflation is on the rise, making them less useful as a differentiator.

As assessments become optional, most admission offices are confronted with a severe difficulty of objective measurement, and subjective evaluation is rapidly becoming the norm, which can be detrimental to a student.

To recapitulate, taking standardised tests is a fringe advantage for both Indian and foreign students when it comes to reserving spots at elite universities abroad, as opposed to a non-test taker who is merely seeking to secure admittance abroad.

For direct queries, write to us at and learn more about the benefits of taking standardised tests for admissions abroad.

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