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Top 10 Testing TBDs for the Class of 2021

By April 23, 2020 May 14th, 2020 ACT, Featured, For Students, SAT, SAT Subject Tests

BREAKING NEWS: College Board cancels June testing, adds September 26th SAT-only date.

College admission and testing is in a state of upheaval, like so much else in our lives. What do we know now about the standardized testing issues faced by the class of 2021, and what can we reasonably assume? On which questions can we offer only informed speculation? On what timeline are we likely to find answers?

Watch our latest presentation on College Admission Testing during these uncertain times here.

Standardized test questions sometimes include a particularly bedeviling answer choice of “Insufficient information provided” (to answer the question). This answer choice often appears suspicious to students, undermining their confidence in how they are analyzing the problem. 

No one should be suspicious of an “It’s impossible to know” answer to many of the questions faced by the college admission and testing world during a pandemic. Beware of anything you read or hear that sounds too definitive or lacks nuance. And don’t stress too much about something you can’t control, can’t act on sensibly yet, or that pales in importance to your and your loved ones’ health and safety right now.

As you try to make sense of what to do with standardized testing with application deadlines only 6-9 months away, the following is a discussion of what may unfold and in approximately what sequence. This post will be updated promptly as speculation is confirmed or disconfirmed.  

1) Unsurprisingly, College Board has decided they must cancel the June test date. There was simply no reasonable alternative. By canceling now, College Board has given themselves, students, and schools some near-term clarity and the opportunity to focus on alternatives this summer and beyond. One of the immediate questions is how colleges will react to news of a third consecutive SAT date being partially (March) or fully (May and June) cancelled, with hundreds of thousands of students with disrupted testing plans. Even more colleges will decide to offer students the flexibility of test-optional policies. Students will have to decide whether to shelve, relax, or maintain their testing-related concerns.

2) Canceling the June 6th SAT seemed necessary, especially as it’s clear that few if any high schools will reopen this spring. Therefore it’s hard to imagine that the June 13th ACT will hold either. However, the July 18th ACT is still three months away. Will ACT consider the July test date’s status separately from the June test date decision? As long as July remains open, many students will pursue it as their targeted test date, even if only tentatively. 

3) An at-home, remotely proctored SAT and ACT increasingly appears to be simply a matter of when and exactly how, not if. When are these plans finalized and dates announced? Clearly, the more that traditional school testing is delayed or at risk, the sooner we will see College Board and ACT act to ensure they don’t simply lose an entire class year’s worth of testing. Amid an inevitable outcry about security and equity that will ensue, how will colleges respond?

The New York Times deemed the 2020 at-home, online AP Exams “a kind of dress rehearsal for the fall,” when students may be taking the SATs at-home, online if schools do not reopen.  A smooth and secure May 2020 AP Exam administration will certainly smooth the path ahead for potential ACT and SAT remote testing. 

Although both APs and SATs are administered by the College Board annually to millions of students, the APs and SATs are different enough that the prospect of online SATs opens new questions and poses new challenges. In-part to reduce the opportunities for cheating, the College Board reduced the AP Exams down to 45-minutes.  Will the SAT or ACT be offered in abridged formats as well? Or instead, will constant video monitoring be deemed more secure than in-person classroom group proctoring? 

The language in the College Board’s announcement indicates that they are steering towards in-person test dates resuming, and that they will only move to remote testing in the “unlikely event” that schools do not re-open for in-person instruction this fall. Nonetheless, there is a significant investment of time and energy necessary to enable remote testing. The College Board is preparing on both fronts: remote online and in-person testing.

4) Related to #3, does AP administration in May appear to go relatively smoothly and securely? What accommodations materialize for students with learning differences and students on the under-resourced side of the digital divide? What are the reports from the students forced to take the test in the middle of the night? Will there be evidence of wide-spread cheating? If it is all the debacle that many predict, how will this undermine any potential for faith in online SAT and ACT administration?

5) UPDATED: When does registration open for existing fall test dates and what is the general perception of how likely it is that those traditional test dates will hold? Of course these decisions are tied to whether schools are on track to re-open in the fall, whether states are relaxing restrictions on movement, etc. How widely available are these test dates? If availability is limited, are steps taken to prioritize access for students with fee waivers and students who have not yet taken the test?

Students will be able to register for August 29, September 26, October 3, November 7, and December 5 SAT administrations the week of May 26th. The College Board has confirmed that Subject Tests will be offered on August 29, October 3, November 7, December 5, and also on test dates into 2021.  Subject Tests will not be offered on the new September 26 date, which will be SAT-only. The exact date on which registration will open is TBD, but all SAT dates for the next school year will be available for registration.  The November 7 administration is currently set only to occur in the US; the College Board is “evaluating if we can add international SAT” offerings as well.  Keep in mind that these administrations will only proceed if it’s safe from a public health standpoint.

For the first week, two groups will get priority for registration for August, September, and October dates:
          1. Students who were registered for the June 6 test.
          2. All Class of 2021 students who are without an SAT score.

During this first week, everyone will be able to register for November tests and beyond.

While it has been made clear that eligible students can register with a fee waiver, it does not seem that these students will have early access to register unless they were also already registered for June 6 and/or current juniors who don’t have SAT scores yet.

The early access registration process should be fairly seamless for students who were registered for June 6 already, as the College Board will contact them directly. It’s less clear how a current junior who hasn’t taken an SAT previously and was not registered for June 6 would gain access to this early registration window. We hope that those with cancelled March 14 and May 2 tests also receive access to the early registration, but it doesn’t look like they will unless they had already changed their cancelled registrations to June 6. 

6) UPDATED: When are additional make-up test dates confirmed by College Board and ACT? In early April, the make-up dates that College Board was shopping to the schools that serve as test sites included July 25, August 8, September 19, and September 26. They have settled on September 26th for an official SAT-only date. ACT is contemplating make-up dates in these windows as well. If most high schools are back in session by fall 2020, we can expect a flurry of test dates to be offered and with more capacity than normal. If schools are not able to reopen…see #7

7) When is online at-home testing for the SAT and ACT confirmed with actual details and dates, and what is the reaction at that point? Compass is predicting that this will happen sooner, not later. The uncertainty around the feasibility of school-based testing is not likely to lift soon. Online, at-home testing will require lead time to actually become operational. College Board is saying they will wait to see how things look this fall but will be ready with their online solution. ACT has gone ahead and committed to a rollout of online, at-home testing in “late fall or early winter” with prep materials for it to be released in August. 

8) When AP exam results come out mid to late summer, are those results consistent with prior years? Is there something weird in the score distributions; would that be blamed on the format (shorter tests) or on the administration context (online remote proctoring)? Colleges will need to finalize and make absolutely clear their decisions on placement and credit. The more that AP results are given credibility, the more likely that the online SAT and ACT scheme will succeed as well. 

9) As SAT and ACT testing resumes (whether at schools or online) over the summer and through the fall, is there clearly a surge in registration for these test dates as pent-up demand is accommodated? Is it obvious that the general consensus is that testing is as important as ever? Or has the test-optional movement finally reached a tipping point resulting in less test-taking activity? This will be known by October. 

10) Finally, how does all the upheaval in testing affect the college application season for the class of 2021? Are fewer students applying overall or in discernibly different patterns? Are colleges staying online for the fall semester or delaying the start of their academic years altogether? Do early decision deadlines get pushed back enough to make later fall test dates feasible? What level of support will exist for students who struggled to afford college even before a pandemic’s effect on the global economy? Of course these questions are beyond the scope of what we can cover here.

We welcome questions and feedback. We’ll respond in the comments below, and we’ll update the post above regularly as new information becomes available. 

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.

9 Comments

  • Avatar Steve says:

    You offer some good perspectives, but also make an apparent misstatement. In #5, you say “The College Board has confirmed that Subject Tests will be offered on August 29, September 26, October 3, November 7, December 5, and also on test dates into 2021.” In the next sentence, you make a conflicting statement: “Subject Tests will not be offered on the new September 26 date, which will be SAT-only.”

  • Avatar Nancy says:

    Thank you for the insights. For those students needing non-Saturday testing be accomodated with a September test as well? Will those students finally be able to register online instead of paper if it is their first testing?

    • Margaux Erilane Margaux Erilane says:

      Hi Nancy,

      It’s too early to be able to answer that question definitely, but we do know that when College Board surveyed schools’ availability for September they also asked about Sunday. We believe they’ll try to accommodate those students to the best of their ability. We haven’t heard any updates about registration at this time.

  • Avatar Gia says:

    Thank you for the updated information. I am grateful.

  • Avatar Lora says:

    Thank you so much for keeping us informed. You are usually first with the important news.

  • Avatar Michelle says:

    Thank you for this concise and extremely helpful article. Compass is my go-to for the facts around testing and I’m grateful to be able to share these insights with my client base.

  • Avatar Tony says:

    Do you also think that we will see a significant number of schools using school-based testing in the fall. They can test their own students thus minimizing some risk of bringing other students into the building.
    Or what about a GRE like scenario of testing centers and somewhat open testing dates?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Tony,
      I believe that most of the agreements with test sites stipulate that they not limit students to their own schools, but I may be wrong. And just about anything is possible at this point. The bigger questions in many places is going to be whether schools are comfortable going back into session — especially at traditional density levels. ACT and SAT will go to an at-home model if in-person dates continue to be canceled. This is what GRE has had to do, as well. The Prometric center model used by the graduate tests doesn’t work for ACT and SAT because of how the tests are offered (they can’t have students taking the tests at dozens of different times) and the cost.

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