Since March, the college admissions test process has become a string of hits and misses for students, test providers of the ACT and SAT, and colleges trying to inject equity into a chaotic admissions process. Many seniors were ultimately unable to test or decided that the effort was not worth it. With senior testing now complete, test capacity should open up for juniors who have been unable to test so far. With that in mind, those juniors planning to test in the first half of 2021 should prepare now to ensure their test plan succeeds.
Are Students Testing?
The good news is that our students have, for the most part, been taking their tests this fall. The bad news is that many of these test dates occurred when local Covid infection rates were much lower than today. As rates have risen locally, we have seen students, especially juniors, get bumped from test sites that had reduced capacity in the weeks before test date. This made sense because these were the last tests available for seniors before submitting their applications, and in most cases, students who got bumped were able to find a seat at another test site, albeit often further away.
Nationally, SAT reported that sixty-seven percent of its test centers would be open for the December 5 test. ACT has not reported the number of students affected by closures for recent test dates, but the company has been working to add new test sites outside of its traditional school-based test options. Often local conditions will be the deciding factor for any one test center. We have heard of individual closures attributed to staff shortages, HVAC issues, and nervous administrators.
How Has the Test Process Changed?
What was once a very routine and reliable process for high school juniors and seniors has now become a game of musical chairs, where students are unsure if they truly have a test spot until the day of the test, and even then, it may not be assured till they get to sit in a desk at the test center.
To manage this new level of uncertainty, we recommend a flexible and persistent approach.
The test-day experience has also changed for students.
How Has Test Prep Changed?
Our approach to test prep has changed as well. In addition to the normal support we provide students and parents throughout the test prep process, we are addressing this new uncertainty by regularly sharing the latest information about test changes and sites, and by adjusting our prep delivery to support students for shorter meetings over longer periods as their prep sometimes stretches over several months. Thankfully, we are finding that students perform just as well with virtual tutoring over Zoom as they do in person, which allows us to offer both options to students based on their preference.
Students still participate in an intense prep period before their first scheduled test, but this is often adjusted or extended if needed if the planned test does not materialize or they lose their seat. The extended time also offers more time for practice tests, which provide a great benefit. We also have had several students utilize the extra time to prep for both the ACT and the SAT to improve their chances of taking a test.
Will the Class of 2022 Get Test Optional?
One unanswered question is whether schools will continue their test optional policies for the Class of 2022. Right now, few schools have said they will, but their decisions need to be announced soon so that students can plan appropriately.
Even if the Class of 2022 continues to benefit from test-optional policies enacted at most colleges and universities for applicants of the Class of 2021, we still expect test scores to play a significant role in admissions decisions for most schools. Being test optional allows the school to accept more applications and fees while reducing their acceptance rate (making them more selective). While not having scores will not count against applicants at test optional schools, having a quality test score will definitely benefit an applicant versus one who does not.
Our advice: every student should take a test if they can. Not every school went test optional (see the University of Florida system), and many schools have indicated they will return to requiring tests as soon as possible. Students may also need a valid test score to for a scholarship, grant, or specialized program beyond their applications, and taking a test only increases in difficulty the further they advance in their junior year because of the other expectations students face.
How Tests Are Adapting
So far, only the ACT seems to be adapting to the new normal, albeit slowly. ACT has added new pop-up test sites outside of schools (convention centers, hotels, meeting spaces) but only in a few areas. Often these are not publicized by the company; the only way to get added is to call them directly and see if one has been planned nearby. The College Board has been unable to implement a similar system for the SAT.
ACT continues to say it will offer both an online version (a computer-based test), and an online-proctored version during 2021, but no new updates have been announced in months, so progress is hard to assess. ACT has also been going through a leadership upheaval and a refocusing on its core test product under the new CEO. SAT has shelved its remote-test option for the foreseeable future. Both companies have reportedly reduced staff to adjust to the reduced test volume (and data sales to colleges). All of this is framed by near constant criticism from parents and students about the provisions of tests and the poor communication from both companies about closures, cancelations, and refunds.
Can You Have a National Merit Program without PSATs?
The PSAT, normally administered in October, has been rescheduled for January 26, but we doubt it will occur. If the PSAT does not happen this school year, it is possible that the National Merit program may accept SAT scores for their 2022 scholarship competition, but they have made not any announcements yet.
What Happened to In-School SATs?
The other in-school test likely to be affected this year is the March SAT that Montgomery County Public Schools offers its juniors. We loved this test because it allowed students to prep ahead of the regular March SAT and then take two tests in a few short weeks, compounding their prep investment. ACT-focused students could also receive a voucher for a free ACT test, helping them reduce the cost of repeat testing as well. We hold out hope that this option will be available, but there are no indications so far that the school system will provide it.
Upcoming Test Dates
Here are the upcoming 2021 test dates that juniors should be preparing for:
Get Prepped This Spring
Everest is offering small group classes for the upcoming February ACT and March SAT. Our classes provided a great value for students needing to prepare for these upcoming tests. Seating is very limited. Contact us today.
Ready to get started sooner? Private tutoring is available seven days a week to meet your schedule and is available online and in-person. Contact us to get a customized plan for your test prep needs.