Written by: Joe Emerson // Jun 19, 2020
Last updated: Jun 19, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic changed the way we get an education. COVID-19 shifted virtually all students online. Brick-and-mortar school schedules became guesswork, and standardized testing got iffy. High school students trying to finish the college application process without the benefit of SAT and/or ACT scores began grappling with what-ifs. What if, for instance, the pandemic closes your test site? Could you take the SAT and ACT online at home? There are two short answers: No on the SAT. Maybe on the ACT.
What COVID-19 Has Done to Standardized Testing
There’s no short answer to what COVID-19 has done to standardized testing. Here are some new realities:
- The pandemic has prompted many colleges to waive standardized test requirements for admissions.
- Some systems have decided to do away with the tests altogether. The New York Times reported on May 21 that the University of California system will phase out the ACT and SAT requirement over four years, and it will be optional through 2024.
- SAT and ACT tests have been canceled and rescheduled, and people who signed up for tests have lost their places because the site(s) couldn’t accommodate social distancing. More seats could be lost.
- College Board has announced it will not attempt online SAT testing at home, citing technical issues. Online standardized testing at home for the ACT could happen, and that raises some questions:
- Can tests taken at home be adequately proctored?
- How will test results be weighted (evaluated) by admissions offices versus scores from tests taken at administration sites?
- How do you prep for a test you will take at home?
- How can the playing field be leveled for low-income students with limited or no broadband and computer access and less than optimal physical realities at home?
Who Gets the Final Say on Online Standardized Testing at Home?
The coronavirus will cast the deciding vote on the future – immediate and, likely, long-term – of standardized testing.
If COVID-19 makes administration sites a no-go, online testing could be an option, the overseers of the SAT and ACT announced in April. However, College Board, the owner and administrator of the SAT, told The New York Times at that time that online home testing was unlikely.
In the spring of 2020, College Board and ACT took these positions on the possibility of online home testing:
College Board: In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use, much as the organization is delivering digital exams for three million Advanced Placement (AP) students this spring. As with at-home AP Exams, the College Board would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions.
ACT: We will “offer a remote proctoring option for the ACT test in late fall/early winter 2020, allowing students to take the test at their home on a computer, or at other safe and convenient locations. ACT will launch this option as part of its national testing program. The fee waivers ACT provides to students from low-income homes will apply to the remote proctoring option, and ACT is considering other ways to address access and equity issues.”
So, taking the ACT online at home? A definite maybe. Taking the SAT online at home? A definite no. The College Board statement just cited was made on April 15. College Board then announced in early June that home testing plans had been abandoned. (More on that in the next section.)
Academic uncertainty is a symptom of the coronavirus, and the College Board and ACT are feeling the pain. Here’s the lead from a Washington Post article dated May 30 and headlined “Testing Giants ACT, College Board Struggle Amid COVID-19 Pandemic”:
“The head of the organization that owns the ACT college admissions test is suddenly out of his job at the same time the College Board is facing new student complaints about how it runs its SAT testing program.”
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the home-use SAT plans were canceled after College Board ran into a flood of technical problems with Advanced Placement online testing at homes that began in May.
SAT Dumps Home-Use Testing Plan; ACT Says It’s Still a Go if Needed
Many students still vying for a seat at test administration centers were facing uncertainty in early June. And here’s where the ACT and SAT stood on home testing as of June 2:
College Board: In a story published by The Washington Post, the SAT owner said it had scuttled plans to offer an online home version of the SAT and urged schools not to punish students who do not submit scores. The story says “the decision came after the College Board faced significant criticism in recent weeks from students who took its online Advanced Placement exams but were unable, because of technical glitches, to submit their answers through cellphones or computers.”
ACT: The test owner told The Washington Post that it was still planning to offer online home testing if necessary, saying it was developing “remote proctoring capabilities to make at-home SAT possible in the future.”
How to Prep for the SAT or ACT in a COVID-19 World
U.S. News & World Report offers a clear-eyed and upbeat view of a world where last-minute test cancellations are definite maybes for both the SAT and the ACT: “The coronavirus may give some students more time to prepare for the SAT or ACT.”
Not a bad takeaway. In essence, regardless of where or how you’ll be testing, use any extra time to push up your numbers. Here are some tips from U.S. News & World Report on how to make that happen:
- Do what it takes to stay registered for your test(s) of choice, even if you’re hit with a cancellation or two. Deadlines are great motivators.
- Don’t let COVID-19 cramp your style. Make your study space as effective as possible, and use it to engage with that virtual study group you should join.
- Set milestones on your path to standardized test preparedness, and reward yourself each time you hit one.
- Don’t overdo the COVID-19 news coverage. Stay informed, but focus on your academic goals.
- Find the tools and techniques you need to get ready, including a good test prep course.
USF Covers the Bases on Standardized Test Prep Courses
The University of South Florida’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Leadership’s standardized test prep program includes ACT and SAT courses designed to help you master all content and any format.
The live online experience is perfect for the age of social distancing, and you can try out what you learn about testing strategies on sample exams. No maybes.