September 11, 2020, by

An Update on Standardized Testing

As COVID-19 has impacted school and work, its impact can be felt in many aspects of the college admission process, especially in the administration of the SAT and ACT. Many testing centers were forced to cancel tests over the spring and summer, leaving students, especially seniors, in a difficult position. Many students have questions about whether to take or retake standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT and SAT Subject tests.  We at Marks Education believe that students and parents should always prioritize the health and safety of their families in making this difficult decision. Seniors should note that there is a box on the Common App that asks students to describe COVID-19 related issues that may have affected their application or testing profile. If you are unable to take (or retake) a test, please indicate that along with the reasons. Colleges will understand.  Seniors should also remember that colleges are much more likely this year to ask for seniors’ first quarter or trimester grades, so they should focus on being as prepared as possible for the challenging academic classes to come.  If online learning was challenging in the spring, you may benefit from some catching up. We tutor for all high school academic subjects and would be happy to help.

For those students who would like to take a test this fall, both the College Board (maker of the SAT) and the ACT have been working with schools and other organizations to offer additional test dates in the fall and to add new locations for testing. However, as national test dates approach this fall, many students may receive emails telling them that their test center has closed or that they must take the test in another location sometimes far from their home address. As COVID-19 affects different parts of the country at different levels of intensity, some test centers will remain open while others are forced to close.  Given that uncertainty, some high schools are moving to administer the SAT and/or ACT only to their own students.

Because of the difficulty students have had taking standardized tests, many colleges have gone test optional for the class of 2021. However, while many colleges have announced a test optional policy, they will continue to use SAT and ACT scores for a variety of reasons.

  • Merit scholarships/Honors—many schools that have merit scholarships and/or honors programs will continue to use test scores to determine scholarship awards and honors program selection.
  • Specific majors or programs—some schools that have announced test optional admissions still require scores for specific programs such as business, nursing, and/or engineering.
  • Contextualizing the transcript—as high schools across the country hurriedly implemented distance learning in the spring due to COVID-19, many introduced different grading policies for the spring semester or term. Alternative grading policies included pass/fail, narrative reports rather than grades, and automatic additional points. colleges and universities rely on a student’s transcript to know if the student is academically competitive and prepared, and test scores can be helpful in demonstrating that the student continued to master skills and concepts through the end of grade 11 and even through the fall of grade 12 despite disruptions to instruction.
  • There are also a number of large state university systems that have not adopted a test optional policy. For example, the University of Alabama has modified its testing deadline but reaffirmed its requirement for test scores.“Standardized test scores are a part of the application review process at the University of Alabama. We ask that students provide either an SAT or an ACT score. We require a test score for all admitted students by May 1, 2021.”

When should students submit SAT or ACT scores to test optional schools?

Before sending test scores to any schools, have a conversation with your college counselor. Are your scores in or above the middle 50% of test scores for the schools on your list? Will your scores support or enhance your application? If the answers to those questions are yes, it may be to your advantage to submit your scores.

What should the Class of 2022 do?

While many colleges have adopted a test optional plan for the class of 2021, the majority of them have implemented a one-year policy change. Some schools will re-evaluate their policies in May or June of 2021 and make a decision about whether to remain test optional or return to requiring SAT or ACT scores. Students in the class of 2022 will need to be prepared to apply to colleges requiring standardized test scores. Nevertheless, they may not be able to sign up for test dates until November or December when rising seniors are done with their testing.

Our recommendations for rising juniors:

    • Stay focused on your school academics. Since your academic work may have been affected by COVID related disruptions to teaching, please reach out to us if we can help you feel better prepared for school.  Your grades remain the most important factor in college admissions, and it’s important that you return to school feeling as prepared as possible. If you have time now, frontload the academic work!
    • Remember that academic work, particularly in math and English, will help with standardized testing.
    • Plan to prepare for the SAT or ACT, recognizing that there may be some delays with testing schedules.
    • If you have registered for a test, be flexible and check your registration regularly. If your test center closes, look for other centers through the registration page for each test.
    • Check the requirements for each college and university to which you are applying to determine if they have made a test optional decision for your year.
    • Focus on Subject tests only after you have taken the ACT and SAT.  Most colleges will not require these, even for the class of 2022. After you’ve done SAT and ACT testing, if you want to show prowess in one or two areas, it’s okay to focus on these.

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Testing will continue to play a role in the college admissions process. Strong scores can differentiate a student from other applicants and provide a college or university with one more reason to accept the student.  However, a strong SAT or ACT score will not replace a low GPA.  Moreover, college admissions officers are reasonable people who understand the difficulties many students are having during this pandemic. If students are not able to take a test out of health concerns or because a test is simply not available in their area, colleges will understand their predicament and will look at the rest of their application without penalizing them for not having a test score.




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