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The optical constants for thin layers of strained InAs, AlAs, and AlSb have been investigated by spectroscopic ellipsometry and multi-sample analyses. These materials are important for high-speed resonant tunneling diodes in the AlAs/InAs/In0.53Ga0.47As and AlSb/InAs material systems. Understanding the optical properties for these thin layers is important for developing in situ growth control using spectroscopic ellipsometry. Ex situ room-temperature measurements were made on multiple samples. The resulting fitted optical constants are interpreted as apparent values because they are dependent on the fit model and sample structure. These apparent optical constants for very thin layers can be dependent on thickness and surrounding material, and are generally applicable only for layers found in a similar structural context. The critical point features of optical constants for the strained layers and for the thin unstrained cap layers were found to differ from bulk values, and three principle effects (strain, quantum confinement, and thin-barrier critical-point broadening) have been identified as responsible. Of these three, the broadening of the E1 and E1+ Δ 1 critical points for thin barrier material is the newest and most pronounced. This thin barrier effect is shown to be a separate effect from strain, and is also observable for the AlAs/GaAs system.