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Impact of COVID-19 on College Admission and Testing

[Last update 3/20] The Compass team is working safely and remotely to provide a full level of service to our students. We have transitioned all of our one-on-one students to online tutoring and are making available a full calendar of practice tests with online proctoring.

While the ability to prepare for the tests is relatively unaffected, the availability of official testing opportunities is diminished and will continue to be for some unknown period of time. Many sites were canceled for the March 14th SAT. While some sites have scheduled make-up dates, we expect cancellations there, as well. The April 4th ACT and May 2nd SAT and SAT Subject Tests have been canceled altogether.

College Board has announced that this year’s AP Exams will be 45-minute exams taken at home. The material covered will be limited to that taught through early March. More information about the exams will be released on April 3rd. Refunds will be available to students who choose not to take the revised exams.

At present, the June 6th SAT and June 13th ACT remain as available options. While we are hopeful that these tests are widely administered, we are currently recommending that students extend their horizons and also consider July and August opportunities. Flexibility on testing location may be required.

We will continue to update the following FAQ regularly to share news and recommendations related to testing. And we are in communication with hundreds of college counselors and admission counselors, so we can share informed speculation about how this may impact the college admissions landscape for the class of 2021.

Q: I am registered for a test date in June or July. How and when will I know if my test is canceled?

A: You can visit these pages at ACT and College Board for lists of site closures, but please be aware that both testing agencies have acknowledged that cancellations may happen too quickly for them to keep the pages up to date. In the days just before the March 14th SAT, College Board acknowledged that the pace of change meant: “In some instances, test centers may need to close on short notice and you may not be directly notified. If you think your test center may be closed, please check your test center’s website or local media for confirmation.”

If similar circumstances apply as we approach the June test dates, keep a close eye on the email account you used to register for the test. Note that not all cancellation notifications are the same. Similar to a cancelled airline reservation, you may or may not be offered a rebooking alternative. The notice may simply ask you to wait for further information. You can also check with the school hosting the test, but we have found that a) a school closing doesn’t automatically mean they are not hosting a test, b) the fact that a school is still open does not mean that testing has not been canceled, and c) circumstances at schools are changing from one day to the next.

Q: Is there anything proactive I can do to increase the likelihood I will be able to take the test? Should I change test centers? Should I register now for later test dates?

A: It appears that private schools and/or schools in highly populated areas may be more likely to cancel test dates. We are aware of families that are switching test centers accordingly. Of course it is impossible to know which sites will remain open and which will close, but we offer this information for you to consider. Note that the test center change deadline for the June 6th SAT (or Subject Tests) is May 27th. The June 13th ACT change deadline is May 22nd, and the July 18th ACT change deadline is June 26th. We strongly recommend that you register far in advance for test dates in June and July, as these dates will likely be quite popular if in fact they are offered.

Q: Is it likely that test dates in June and beyond will be canceled too?

A: This is extremely difficult to predict, of course. As of this writing in mid-March, the June test dates are 12 and 13 weeks away. We will not attempt amateur epidemiology here. The best indicator of whether June and July test dates will materialize is whether schools appear likely to reopen this school year. It’s hard to imagine how test dates could resume before schools reopen.

Q: My test date was canceled, and I don’t know when I can reschedule. I had prepared and was ready; now what do I do?

A: We have many students in this unfortunate and frustrating situation. There are a variety of approaches that we may recommend, depending on your circumstances and needs. At minimum, you should continue taking practice tests occasionally and reviewing your results and your Compass curricula materials. The good news is that the amount of tutoring or self-study needed to maintain is typically less than the effort you expended to improve in the first place. Of course we would perfectly understand the desire to completely put testing out of mind at this time too, until some sense of certainty and stability returns. We will stay in touch with you regarding any new information that you might need to make plans. Meanwhile, please feel free to contact us for personalized guidance, practice test reservations, and additional materials.

Q: I am not feeling well; can I still take the test? Am I allowed to wear a mask or gloves?

A: You should not be testing if you feel that you might endanger the health of other test takers. You should also understand that ACT and College Board are aware of the heightened safety risks during this period. ACT has released advanced guidance on how individual testing sites and coordinators should handle certain aspects of testing, including turning away sick students or dealing with students wearing masks. College Board has defined similar procedures. On the March 14th SAT date, students were allowed to wear masks and nitrile gloves but had to remove them and have them inspected by a staff member prior to testing. If they removed the mask or gloves during the exam they were reinspected.

Q: Did President Trump cancel the SATs?

A: There has been confusion in recent days between federal and state-mandated testing and the SATs, ACTs, and APs. The U.S. Department of Education has suspended the enforcement of mandated standardized testing requirements. There are no restrictions yet on optional exams such as the SATs, ACTs, and APs.

Q: What if test date cancellations and other disruptions extend into the college admission application timeline for the class of 2021? What are colleges likely to do?

A: College admission operations are run by human beings who will be practical, fair, and humane in how they respond to these unprecedented circumstances. We are in contact every day with folks on the admissions side of the desk. Their immediate concerns have been tied to their current students and the admission class of 2020. Here is a statement that we have seen, with sentiments we have found to be essentially universal and that we expect will apply to the class of 2021 as well:

“I want to assure you that Case Western Reserve will not penalize any student who, because of COVID-19-related measures, is unable to attend school in person, and/or have access to other educational and co-curricular opportunities. We will work with your school counselor to resolve any questions that arise about grades or exams. We appreciate how challenging this time is for so many students and families, and want to do all that we can to alleviate at least one of your potential causes for concern.”

— Robert R. McCullough, Dean of Undergraduate Admission

As another example of the practicality and decency with which colleges are responding, many are extending the candidate reply date from May 1 to June 1 or beyond for the class of 2020. We have also heard indications that colleges will be prepared to extend application deadlines or admission test submission deadlines for the class of 2021 as necessary. We may see more colleges take the opportunity to join the test-optional movement and not require the SAT or ACT at all of applicants. There is even a case being made by many that testing should be eliminated altogether for the class of 2021. It is simply too early to know how this will unfold.

We would be remiss were we not to note our awareness of informed speculation that in a circular and perhaps unreasonable way, test scores may seem that much more important for the class of 2021 in some circumstances. Admissions officers are anticipating a myriad of novel challenges in evaluating class of 2021 applicants, including gaps in transcripts and classes taken pass/fail, a surge in students needing more financial aid, a shift in what kind of geographic environments and distances from home are preferred by students, and any number of other factors not yet contemplated. Colleges also rely on test scores in their yield models (efforts to predict likelihood that an admitted student will enroll). These estimations play an increasingly heavy role in admission decisions, especially at more selective colleges.

Our advice generally on pursuit of testing opportunities in the face of COVID-19 is similar to how we think about testing in light of many colleges having made tests optional. While students enjoy and can expect more flexibility than ever with testing policies, requirements, and expectations, it is still accurate to say that students who take the tests and score as high as possible are likely to have that many more options. We also feel it should go without saying that if testing is the last thing on your mind as you cope with the impact of this pandemic, then you are not alone or acting unreasonably. We are prioritizing our employees’ health and safety at this time while keeping testing and college admission in perspective.

Please feel free to ask questions and share reactions in the comments below. We will respond to every question, and we will continue to update and expand the Q&A above. Don’t hesitate to contact us directly if we can be of assistance.

Adam Ingersoll

About Adam Ingersoll

Adam began his career in test prep in 1993 while at the University of Southern California, where he was a student-athlete on the basketball team, worked in the admission office, and graduated magna cum laude. Over the last two decades he has guided thousands of families to successful experiences with standardized tests and has mentored hundreds of the industry's most sought-after tutors. Adam is known nationally as a leading expert on college admission testing and is a frequent presenter at higher ed conferences, faculty development workshops, and school seminars.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Chris says:

    My son is a junior. His extracurricular activities were canceled indefinitely. We are all so very worried on how he is going to catch up and be ready for application season. Have you any idea how this is going to affect him?
    Thank you

    • Margaux Erilane Margaux Erilane says:

      Hi Chris,

      We understand the worry your family is feeling, and you’re not alone in those feelings. You should know the burden does not fall solely on the applicants – college admissions is a two-way process and both sides are being impacted. Colleges and applicants both want the same thing, and colleges know they will need to make adjustments for the classes of 2020 and 2021. Many admissions offices are being very understanding during these uncertain times. For example, a note from Harvard addressed this very issue: “Students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to the current coronavirus outbreak will not be disadvantaged as a result.” (Read the full announcement here: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2020/3/21/harvard-coronavirus-applications-admissions-guidance/)

      We hope this information can provide some relief during this time, but please feel free to reach out to us with any other questions. Our director team is always ready to help!

  • Avatar Patti says:

    Thanks, Adam, for the important information that you, and Compass, are providing at this unusual time.

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