COVID-19 and Standardized Testing

COVID-19, and the subsequent closing of schools across the country, has greatly impacted the standardized testing landscape. Depending on where you live, you may or may not have been able to take the March SAT (the test was still proctored in many North Carolina cities, for example). The March ACT was postponed worldwide with students offered the opportunity to take the exam in June. This news was followed quickly by the cancellation of the April ACT and May SAT exams. Then, just this week the College Board announced that the June SAT administration would not take place. Finally, it seems likely that the June ACT exam will also be canceled – I imagine an announcement will be made in the coming days.

What does this mean for current high school juniors? For one, if you were unable to take an exam this spring it is unlikely that you will be able to do so until July at the earliest (the 7/18 ACT is still scheduled). The next SAT administration is scheduled on August 29. The College Board did add an additional examination date in September and thus are now offering tests each month August through December. Second, though rarely required from any one college or university, the ideal months for most juniors to take SAT Subject Tests are May and June. With those tests canceled, the next exam date closest to the end of the junior year is the August 29 administration. With most schools moving to remote learning in March, there will be a five month gap between in-class instruction and the exam date – hardly an ideal situation.

Many colleges and universities reacted swiftly to news of these cancellations, adding their names to the growing list of test-optional schools in the United States. Some did so for this year’s junior class only (see Williams College and the entire University of California system), others for a trial period of 2-3 years (e.g. Davidson College), and still others announced permanent policy changes. That list stands at over 1100 at the time of this post according to, an impressive figure when one considers there are but 3000 four-year institutions total nationwide. That said, our state flagship universities here in North Carolina – UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State – have yet to announce any standardized test policy changes, and this is true for many prominent schools across the country. Visit for a comprehensive list of test-optional schools and then verify that what is indicated there is posted policy on respective college admissions websites.

The College Board administration of AP examinations is yet another puzzle to unravel. Simply put, they will be administered online this May in a truncated format. Is this fair for all? How will the College Board account for gaps in technology access? How will tests be scored? Will credit be offered for specific scores on certain examinations by colleges/universities? Suffice to say, if you are preparing for AP exams this spring, you are doing so with more than just the potential test questions swirling in your head.

Finally, you may have heard that both the ACT and the College Board have introduced the possibility of online exams being offered as early as this fall. So much to unpack here, not the least of which is whether colleges and universities will support such moves. Stay tuned.

All told, keeping track of test policies this year will require careful research. For every school that makes your list as one you may apply to, you need to take the time to determine the following:

  1. Do I have to submit an ACT or SAT result? Do not assume what was a school’s policy in November is still their policy today.
  2. If so, do I need to take the writing section and submit that score?
  3. If the school is test optional, should I take exams and submit my scores anyway? This requires an analysis of your scores and an understanding of how applications have been historically reviewed at that institution.
  4. Will colleges superscore my ACT or SAT results? Do I get to choose the scores I submit or do I need to send them all for them to superscore?
  5. Beginning this fall, I can take a single section of the ACT on a test date. Should I do this? Will schools consider this single section score when superscoring my ACT? This announcement was met with great excitement by many. I encourage tempering that enthusiasm – it may not be shared by college admissions offices.
  6. I want to apply to a school that “strongly recommends” SAT – Subject Test results. Are they going to change their policy now that the May and June examination dates have been canceled?

Don’t wait until September to do this research. Do it now so you will be prepared for changes that will inevitably come in these ever-changing times.

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