Navigating Fall Testing in 2020

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Female students taking tests at the universityWhat You Need to Know if Testing is on Your Radar This Fall

This fall, students may feel like they’re approaching a crossroads. While many originally planned on taking the PSAT, SAT, or ACT during their fall semester, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of uncertainty to their college preparation plans. As some testing sites begin to reopen, new questions have emerged. Some students may be wondering whether they should register for a fall exam, what taking the SAT or ACT during the COVID-19 pandemic will look like, and what their options are if they decide against sitting for an exam. 

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether or not a student should take a standardized exam this fall. Instead, students need updated insight on upcoming testing dates and guidelines, as well as information on college admissions policy changes, to make an informed decision that aligns with their needs and goals. Below, we’ve gathered the facts on fall testing in 2020 and shared our top tips for students who are considering taking the SAT, ACT, or PSAT this year.

Should you register for a fall exam?

Some students may be unsure about whether they should register for an exam this fall, and it’s important to remember that there’s no right answer; instead, there’s simply a choice that may better align with your circumstances and priorities. If you are able to test and don’t currently have any SAT or ACT scores, registering for a fall exam can be an opportunity to see your test preparation come to fruition. Especially if you think that a strong SAT or ACT will really enhance your applicant profile.

However, students shouldn’t stress if they are unable to sit for an exam or if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Instead, channel your energy towards going the extra mile for the soft factors in your college application, such as your personal statement and short answer questions. For applicants who choose not to submit an SAT or ACT score, these components will be particularly important. Don’t forget to take advantage of the Common App’s new COVID-19 section to discuss how the pandemic has impacted your college admissions process and what you’ve done to overcome it. 

If you’re preparing for the ACT…

Right now, the ACT has about eight potential testing dates in the US for the remainder of 2020: September 12, September 13, September 19, October 10, October 17, October 24, October 25, and December 12. For international students, the September and October test dates are still on, but the December exam has been canceled for all international students. While the ACT has continued to be administered through this summer, it has been with limited capacity and with many testing centers closing before the test date – forcing registered students to find another open spot on another date. In short: it’s been a mess.

If you are currently registered for a 2020 test date, check your email and the ACT website periodically in the weeks leading up to the exam for updates on testing center closings. The ACT is currently analyzing which states have been hit hardest by COVID-19 cancellations and working to develop “pop up” testing sites to add as many as 10,000 additional seats on existing national test dates.

If you’re preparing for the SAT…

Currently, the SAT has the following dates to remaining for 2020: September 26, October 3, November 7, and December 5. Because the SAT canceled spring and summer testing dates, and experienced testing center closings for the August exam, space is limited in many locations for these remaining test dates. Just like with the ACT, local schools and test centers will make individual decisions about whether or not to administer the exam, and due to social distancing guidelines, many test centers will be running at reduced capacity. As a result, students are encouraged to check multiple dates to maximize availability options. 

If you’re preparing for the PSAT…

The primary date for the PSAT is October 14, with alternatives on October 17 and October 29. Schools can choose to administer the exam on one or multiple test dates. There will be flexible options offered, including off-site testing, flexible start times, and no charge for schools with unused tests. In addition to the usual fall PSAT date, the College Board has also added a January 2021 testing date, in the hopes to accommodate students who might miss the October testing due to school closures.

How are colleges responding?

College admissions officers are well aware that students have encountered significant obstacles surrounding standardized exams. As a result, many colleges and universities have shifted to test-optional policies this year. More than 60% of 4-year colleges and universities in the United States will not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores for fall 2021 admission. Additionally, nearly 400 college and university members have signed on to a statement released by the National Association for College Admissions Counselors declaring that students will not be penalized for the absence of a standardized test score for admission in fall 2021.

Tips for students taking a fall exam

If you are registered for the SAT or ACT this fall, it’s important to go into it with the same mindset as you would during any other testing circumstance. While it may be challenging to prepare virtually if you’ve grown accustomed to in-person learning, it’s particularly important to give this exam your all. It’s unlikely that students will be able to take more than one fall exam due to limited testing capacity, so make sure you are set up for success. Also, continue to look out for updates to check that your testing site remains open for exam day.

If you’re feeling stressed or unsure about what to do this fall, you’re not alone. The best thing students can do to feel confident about their decision is to learn as much as possible and stay updated on policy changes and admissions news. If you are looking for guidance on standardized testing plans or college applications this fall, contact us today for more information about counseling and tutoring services. 

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