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 as a result of these SAT and ACT changes.

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

Test-Optional Applications

Due to the pandemic, many colleges and universities do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission. However, you should check with the admissions office at every school where you plan to apply as this is not a universal shift. Even if your target schools don’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 will require a test score? 
  • Do I need test scores for my high school graduation? 
  • Would a strong 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.

Limited Capacity and Increased Test Dates

Given social distancing requirements in some states, the tests can only be administered to small groups. As a result, testing could be limited in terms of capacity for the foreseeable future. In an effort to address this problem, the number of available test dates has been increased for both tests. The ACT now offers standby testing dates, so you may be able to sit for the test if a registered student fails to show up, which happens often according to Cynthia Morton, director of college advising and counseling at the Westfield School in Perry, Georgia.

Fee Waivers 

Fee waivers are still available to students who need them, and some fees for late registration or standby testing have been eliminated. 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.”


In recent years, the ACT moved to allow superscoring, in which colleges calculate a composite of your highest scores on individual sections of the test across the dates you took it, rather than only reviewing the score from a single test. As part of that change, the ACT was planning to offer section retesting for specific sections of the test where a student wanted to try and 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 adapt to 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.

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2020.

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ACT® is a trademark registered by ACT, Inc., which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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