ACTing in a pandemic: COVID-19 causes ACT, SAT cancellations, impacting juniors’ college process

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Photo credit: Lola Lamberg

Junior Lola Lamberg's various SAT practice books stack on top of each other, along with her calculator. Lamberg used these practice books as a study resource for the SAT exam that was supposed to take place this month but has been postponed due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

On the evening of Friday, March 13, junior Gaby Ayala received a surprising and frustrating notification — one that would change her entire college process as she knew it.

“I was notified the night before that I couldn’t take my SAT exam,” Ayala said. “It’s frustrating how I was practicing for a really long time and didn’t have the opportunity to take it like many other juniors in my class.”

Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, both public and private schools are shut down in order to practice social distancing regulations as well as limit the number of people coming in contact with one another each day. Due to state-specific stay-at-home orders, which restrict public movement outside individual residences, all ACT and SAT exam dates were canceled for this semester by the College Board.

Partially in response to the change, colleges are increasingly moving towards test-optional admissions policies, according to an article from Insider Higher Ed.

Boston University, Tufts University, Tulane University and all UC schools have allowed these exams to be test-optional for juniors applying to be a part of the 2025 graduating class.

Associate Director of College Guidance Jee Won Lee called the UC system’s choice to shift to test-optional applications “historical.”

“The UC, a massive system that historically has been very reliant on testing, was heavily criticized for this just at the beginning of this year,” Lee said. “It started a task force with faculty to start to think of the possibility of a future where UCs are test-optional.”

Similar to her two fellow classmates, junior Addison Lee said she felt frustration and confusion that’s she’s been experiencing following this change in scheduling. This change has prompted various universities and colleges to allow these exams to be considered test-optional. Moving forward, Lee is still “unsure” about how COVID-19 affects her personal college process as of now.

“I’m not sure if it’s impacted negatively or positively but I know it’s done something,” Addison Lee said. “For me, obviously the biggest thing is that my April test date has now been canceled.”

In an effort to speed up this test-taking process, Jee Won Lee said the College Board is considering an at-home SAT exam for students.

“I know they’re talking about the possibility of an online at-home SAT should that become necessary,” Lee said.

Ayala said this postponement serves as a disadvantage for her and for other students who were not able to complete the exam before the outbreak. This setback also limited super-score opportunities for juniors, a calculation in which colleges combine the highest section scores across multiple testing dates to come up with a higher overall score.

“It’s just a shame because everyone else is super excited to be done with the testing process,” Ayala said. “It’s always good to have multiple SATs or ACTs done so then you have the option to choose your best score or to even super-score.”

At the moment, all SAT and ACT exams have been canceled or postponed until further notice.  In total, four official testing dates and three makeup testing dates were canceled.

“The newest update is that there will be a September test,” Lee said. “Historically, there’s been an August sitting and then an October, November [and] December sitting, and so in an effort to expand testing options, they did add that September test.”

In the past couple of weeks, fellow classmates, family members and teachers advised Ayala to try to stay optimistic during this difficult and confusing time. Looking on the brighter side of things, Ayala said she felt somewhat grateful for the few advantages that the delay has recently brought her.

“Right now there’s more room for practice, and practice is always good, just like for any sport,” she said. “Due to the delay, I have a lot more time to study and master concepts that I might’ve been confused on, so that’s always a nice thing to have.”

Ayala also said the clear communication that has been happening between junior class students and the College Guidance Department. Every Sunday evening, the counselors send out emails to the entire class, listing further opportunities and deadlines along with essential information.

“I was fortunate enough to have my last HD college guidance session on the last day of real school, so right now we just receive our weekly Sunday college emails from our guidance counselors, which are really helpful to us,” Ayala said. “This is where juniors can get all of their information, whether that may be deadlines or other opportunities.”

Junior Starr Brown was planning on taking the SAT in August, but after it was cancelled, she cannot gauge which schools might be within her range.

“A lot of the schools you need a certain score to even be looked at, and so now I can’t compare scores to the school I want to go to because I don’t have a score,” Brown said. “I am kind of in that process just being a little concerned about how to keep going when my school list without having a score.”

At first, Brown found there was a positive side of the test being canceled because she would be able to have an extra month to prepare and study. However, she finds it also a challenge because she would not feel “motivated” to take the test in the upcoming school year when she is a senior.

“With all of them being canceled now I don’t want to take it when the new school year starts because I am not going to be focused on preparing for it anymore,” Brown said. “There is a downfall to that positive effect — I can possibly not be motivated to take the test anymore.” 

In spite of what she described as stressful times, Lee offered some insight that she has been sharing with her eleventh grade students in the light of these recent events, stressing to them the importance of taking care of themselves mentally.

“[I] hope that students are finding they have more time to dedicate to [their] studies and to school work, and quite frankly, to things that matter so much more than exam testing,” Lee said.