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SAT and ACT in the COVID Era

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Recent developments concerning the SAT and ACT as of June 2020

In mid-March this year, our nation was brought to an abrupt halt by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the SAT and ACT are no exception.  We are all learning to cope with uncertainty in these chaotic times.  High school juniors, in particular, are worried about how the college application process and the SAT and ACT will be affected.  Frustratingly, there are many more questions than answers.  In this update, I will share what I have gleaned about the status of these tests.  Although this information is as accurate as I can make it, please keep in mind that we are living in a time of constant change.  I will do my best to keep you updated when I learn of significant developments.



Rather than canceling its June 13 test day, the ACT has taken a more surgical approach.  They have left it up to each testing center (aka high school) to determine whether or not they will hold the test as planned.  As of now, about 70% of the testing centers have canceled the June 13th administration and many of the others have decreased capacity to allow for social distancing.  Unfortunately, this has not worked out well for the Lehigh Valley.  There are no centers offering the June 13 ACT within a reasonable drive of our location, and the ACT is not allowing students who were registered for the June 13 ACT to move to a different center.  If you are registered for the June ACT and unsure about the status of your testing center, you can use this link to check.

The next opportunity to take the ACT will happen on July 18.  While the ACT has not made any announcements about cancellations for this administration, I expect that it will play out in a similar fashion as the June test.  There is simply no way to know for sure which testing centers will be able to hold the test.  If you would like to register for the July ACT, use this website.

Single Section Retakes

Before the onset of COVID-19, the ACT had announced plans to offer single section retakes starting with the September test.  What this means is if you have taken the full ACT at least once, you may have the option to retake a selection of the sections of the test (English, Math, Reading, and Science) without having to sit for the full 3.5 hour experience.  Although these plans are still on track, there are some important questions that the ACT has yet to answer concerning single section retesting.  First, they have not released which testing centers will make this option available.  Therefore, there is no guarantee that students in Pennsylvania (or any other specific state) will have access to this option.  Second, individual colleges have not crafted their policies as to whether they will accept scores ACT scores that are composed of tests on multiple days.  Before taking advantage of the single section retesting, I strongly suggest that you get in touch with an admissions officer at your top choice colleges to ask whether the scores will be accepted.

Update on June 20

The ACT announced yesterday that they will postpone their plans for single section retesting until next year.  They are doing this to focus on increasing access to students who are still struggling to take the full test in the first place.  However, they are now considering the option of offering the full ACT in an at-home format.



The SAT cancelled its spring and summer testing at a national level, and the next opportunity to take this test will be August 29.  There are also test dates available in September, October, November, and December.  College Board is also considering adding a January 2021 test if it is needed.  At this moment, all students can register for the October and later tests, and only “priority” students who have not yet had an opportunity to take the SAT can sign up for the August and September tests.  The window for priority students will be ending in a few days, after which all students can sign up for all testing days.  When the college board first opened its website for registrations on May 28th there were a lot of issues created by the huge amount of traffic through the website.  To the best of my knowledge, those issues have been resolved.  So, if you tried to register and were not able to, I think you will have more luck now.  If you would like to register for an SAT, use this link.

The College Board had previously announced that they were exploring ways to offer the test online and at home as a last resort.  Yesterday, the College Board announced that they determined this plan is not feasible, so the SAT will not be offered online.  They did ask for colleges to be flexible and open minded when it comes to deadlines and requirements in the case that the fall tests are also affected by COVID-19.  You can read the full announcement here.


SAT and ACT Optional Colleges –

Because of the lack of access to the SAT and ACT, many colleges and universities have made the decision to become “test optional” for the 2020 applications.  Test optional isn’t a well defined term, as each college has created its own nuanced policy concerning testing.  Therefore, your best bet is to go to the admissions page for each of the colleges you are considering and carefully review the posted policy.  The test optional movement, like many developments in the COVID era, is fluid and confusing. Parents and students have approached me with some very good questions. Does this mean you don’t have to take any tests?  Would it still benefit you to take a test even if the college doesn’t require it?  How will scholarships and merit aid be affected if you don’t have scores?

It’s hard for me to answer these questions accurately in this time of continual change.  The college application process will look quite different this year.  Not only have test scores been affected, but so have GPA’s, AP classes, and all extra-curricular activities.  Moreover, a record number of this year’s seniors are expected to request a “gap year” meaning there will be fewer seats available for today’s high school juniors.  Well-meaning admissions officers are posting articles saying they understand the situation and will not penalize students for deficiencies caused by the pandemic.  However, logic tells us that many schools will have thousands more applicants than spaces available, and somehow the difficult decisions will have to be made.

If you are interested in applying to selective schools in 2020 and 2021, you will need to think carefully and creatively about how you will make your application stand out from the crowd. Providing a respectable test score when many other students won’t is one thing that can bolster your case, even at a test optional school.  My best recommendation is that today’s rising 12th graders attempt to capitalize on every opportunity to improve their applications, including by prepping for and taking the available standardized tests.


Recommendations for taking the SAT and ACT –

I appreciate that it is hard to invest time in test prep when you don’t know for sure if and when the tests will happen.  This is especially true for our teenagers who are understandably feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of this time.  Since I have a 17-year-old daughter, this is something I understand and experience in my own home.  My best recommendation is to try to do a little bit of studying, maybe 15-30 minutes, each day.  Such a routine can be comforting and can also keep your test taking skills honed and ready for the next opportunity.  Furthermore, working on your reading, English, and math skills has benefits well beyond a single test score.  You will be working on study skills, goal setting, and growing a knowledge base that will make you more ready to be successful in college and life.

Although these are difficult times, I remain optimistic because I work with teenagers every day.  My students are smart, hardworking, quirky, courageous, tech savvy, community minded, and absolutely full of potential.  To the parents who are reading this, thank you for sharing your teenagers with me. They never fail to brighten my day.  To any students who are reading this, just thank you.  I know our future is in good hands.  As always, if there is anything I can do to support you, don’t hesitate to reach out.


More articles by Heather Krey, M.Ed.

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What to do when a math question makes you panic

Top 10 ways to raise your SAT and ACT English score

What PSAT scores qualify for the National Merit Scholarship?