The Future of the SAT and ACT During COVID-19

The future of standardized tests and testing policies at colleges is going to look a lot different due to the ongoing pandemic. Here's what you should know about the SAT and ACT.

There have been many changes to our lives with the advent of COVID-19, and the future of SAT and ACT testing is no exception. Many examinations were canceled this past spring, and there was talk about an online version of the SAT, but the College Board chose not to take that route. Instead, they’ll offer extra examinations starting in August. It’s unclear why exactly College Board decided to forgo the online option, but the troubles we saw with online AP testing may have been the cause of concern. Let’s explore the changes coming for the SAT and ACT and the difficulties that go along with online testing.

The trouble with online testing

AP exams are an important part of high school education for students striving for top colleges, and during a normal school year they can be stressful—but the new online format raised the bar to a whole new level. Though the College Board stated that everything went well, many students had a wide range of issues with the online format. (The College Board reported less than 1% of students facing issues, but with over 640,000 taking these online AP exams, that 1% is still a sizable audience.)

Some AP test-takers struggled with submitting their scores, some had trouble pasting their answers in the submission fields, and still others had weird messages about makeup tests even though they did nothing to warrant it. It’s hard to say why exactly these issues came up, but an outdated or unsupported browser might be the culprit. These problems may not have affected most students, but with such an important test, any trouble for any student is unacceptable. With all this in mind, the College Board will not administer an online SAT exam.

Related: How to Learn at Home During COVID-19


On the other hand, the ACT has rescheduled canceled test dates and will also administer an online version starting this fall and winter. There’s a lot of uncertainty with COVID-19, and the ACT understands this is a difficult time for students and will adjust their plans accordingly as things continue to develop. “During this time of crisis due to COVID-19, we understand that students need more flexibility in taking the ACT test, and these steps are intended to help students stay on track with college planning and career exploration,” stated Marten Roorda, the CEO of ACT.

We can already see the need for this flexibility with the most recent examination. There was an ACT scheduled for June 13, but it was canceled due to the continued threat of the virus. Some school districts rescheduled to a week later on June 20, but many others chose to forgo the June testing date and move them to July or later. Even then, there were continued issues; some students found that their testing centers were closed without warning, and others who took the test later discovered that some test-takers had COVID-19, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Schools going test optional

It's hard to say when everything will be back to normal. Many colleges and universities understand the challenges students are facing in these times and have adjusted their policies accordingly. Harvard University made the announcement that they’ll allow rising seniors to apply without sending ACT or SAT scores. This raises a question: Will it hurt to not send a score? Fortunately, Harvard will not penalize any student for not sending their scores and will instead evaluate candidates holistically.

Others schools have followed suit, such as Tufts University, Case Western Reserve University, Davidson College, and many others. In addition, the University of California system will not only make the SAT and ACT test optional but also remove the requirement entirely for some. The University of California Board of Regents stated, “Today’s decision by the Board marks a significant change for the University’s undergraduate admissions.” UC President Janet Napolitano added, “We’re removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”

There are major changes to the educational landscape on the horizon. Standardized testing such as the ACT and SAT has been hotly debated even before the pandemic. Proponents argue that the tests allow students to show their work ethic or intelligence on an equal footing since the standardized tests are the same for everybody by definition, while others believe it’s wrong to judge a student solely by their scores. Test-optional policies have been gaining ground over the years, and COVID-19 has accelerated these discussions and forced colleges to adapt.

Related: How COVID-19 Is Affecting Standardized Tests

Should you take a standardized test?

The future is uncertain, but current seniors need to think about their college applications. The SAT and ACT are now optional for many schools, and this could be good or bad depending on the student. Some students are not great test-takers, and the option to skip the SAT or ACT is perfect for them. On the hand, another student might have low grades and want to study hard and get a great score on the SAT to stand out. Fortunately, both types of students have options.

While some test centers have closed and “testing capacity in certain areas may be limited due to public health restrictions and high demand,” students can still take the SAT and submit their scores. The ACT is also hoping to add more testing centers and expand capacity for the fall. If students feel they’re capable of getting a high score, then by all means you should consider taking the exam. A high score can be an excellent way to round out your college application. But students who don’t wish to take the exam can focus on other areas.

Related: What Standardized Tests Should You Take (or Not)?

It’s hard to recommend the best course for juniors and below since we don’t know what the future of standardized tests will be. For now, incoming seniors have the ability to forgo the SAT and ACT. The tests are a huge struggle for many students as they require hours of studying. If you decide not to take a test, then you’ll have free time to polish your applications. You can also use this time to focus on academics, participate in additional extracurriculars, or work on your passions. You don’t have to stress about the SAT and ACT, and you can use your time to excel in other areas. There are options for whichever course you decide to take, and you can pick the best one for you.

Check out our COVID-19 student resources page for more advice and information on the ongoing pandemic.

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About Jon Paul

Jon Paul is a tutor who works in the New York City tri-state area. He has helped countless students with math and other subjects to great success. You can read more at


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