Both the SAT® and ACT® exams have been in flux since spring 2020 due to COVID-19. Test dates have been canceled, rescheduled and postponed.

It’s undoubtedly frustrating if you’ve been preparing for these tests, but take heart: You’re not alone. Every student is facing the same hurdles with the SAT and ACT test changes.

To help you navigate this uncertain time, there are COVID-19 resource pages for the SAT and ACT tests that cover everything from safety during the test to what to do if your test is canceled. While policies are changing rapidly, here are six important standardized test updates you should know now. 

1. Test-Optional Applications

Many colleges and universities will not require SAT or ACT scores for admission for the class of 2021. However, you should check with the admissions office at every school where you plan to apply as this is not a standard rule. Even if a school doesn’t require the test, you may still want to take it if you’re able, says Geoff Heckman, high school counselor at Platte County High School in Missouri. Ask yourself these key questions to help determine if you should sit for a test:

  • Are there scholarships that are going to require that test score? 
  • Do I need test scores for my high school graduation? 
  • Would a good test score enhance my application? 

These questions are just a starting point. Talk to your parents, high school counselor and college admissions officers to make the right call for you. 

Be aware that some schools require other materials in place of test scores. “These range from a graded assignment to essays to letters of recommendation,” says Jill Madenberg, co-author of Love the Journey to College and principal at Madenberg College Consulting. She advises that you double-check the school’s application requirements to be sure you don’t miss any supplemental test-optional requirements. 

2. Limited Testing

Given social distancing requirements and indoor gathering restrictions, in some states, the tests can only be administered to small groups. As a result, testing will be more limited for the foreseeable future. Compounding the issue are all of the students whose test dates were canceled who are now clamoring to register for these limited test availabilities. “[Students are] having trouble getting in because they’re full or they’re having to travel long distances,” says Cynthia Morton, director of college advising and counseling at the Westfield School in Perry, Georgia. That said, the number of test dates available has been increased for both tests, and the ACT now offers standby testing dates, so you may be able sit for the test if another student doesn’t show up, which Morton says happens often. 

3. Non-Saturday Testing

Before COVID-19, non-Saturday test dates were only available to students unable to sit for the tests on Saturday due to religious reasons. Now, the ACT is opening non-Saturday testing to all students. Some test sites are even offering testing during the school day. “A high school can opt in to get the test during the school day for their students,” says Morton, explaining how the weekday tests work. 

4. At-Home Testing

Although there had been plans to offer at-home testing for the SAT and ACT, that plan has since been revised. The ACT has announced it will “offer a remote proctoring solution, allowing students to take the test online, at home or at other convenient locations in the winter,” while at-home tests for the SAT have been postponed indefinitely. Check each test’s website for updates and changes. 

5. Fee Waivers 

Fee waivers are still available to students who need them, and some fees for late registration or standby testing have been removed. Reach out to each test company for more information related to your specific situation. “If your [financial] circumstances have changed because of COVID-19, very often your high school can help you get a fee waiver,” says Madenberg. “And some high schools actually have a fund for [test fees], whether it’s through their PTA or a discretionary fund from the principal.”

6. Superscoring

In recent years, the ACT moved to allow superscoring, which means colleges can calculate a composite of your highest scores on individual sections across the dates you took the test, rather than only reviewing the score from a single test date. As a result, the ACT was planning to offer section retesting for specific sections of the test where a student wanted to to improve their score. Due to COVID-19, however, ACT section retesting has been postponed to allow for as much availability as possible for students whose original test dates were canceled. The SAT offers superscoring as well, but does not offer section retesting options.

COVID-19 has changed the college admissions process, and as schools and testing companies try to keep up with this new normal, expect more changes to come. Be sure to stay in regular contact with your high school counselor, check for changes on the SAT and ACT websites and review admissions changes for the colleges on your list. Also remember that other applicants, the schools on your list and the testing companies are all navigating this unprecedented time with you. 

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