If you follow the SAT-related news—and who doesn’t?—you know that several colleges have decided to waive the SAT/ACT requirement for students in the class of 2021. Due to COVID-19, three of the seven annual SAT exam dates have been cancelled, and colleges around the country are now saying that students don’t have to submit scores. So, if you’re in the class of 2021, do you even need to take these tests?
The short answer, I’m sorry to say, is probably yes. So far, about one out of every four colleges has waived the SAT/ACT for this cohort of students. Or, put another way, about three out of every four colleges are still requiring them. The odds are still pretty good that you’ll be applying to at least one school that will still require test scores.
Think of this like the optional SAT/ACT essays: The vast majority of colleges do not require them, but if you are applying to even one college that does require it, then you obviously still need to write the essays. The same logic holds true regarding the exams in general this year: If even one school that you are applying to still requires that you take the SAT or ACT, then a solid score is still important. And most schools are still requiring it.
Does it even make sense for college to waive the exams?
Absolutely! As I have said before, there are strong arguments for not requiring the SAT or ACT even in normal years. They are not great predictors of success in college, and the skills they evaluate reflect a student’s level of preparation for the exam far more than they reflect the student’s general academic preparedness. In other words, they test how good you are at standardized tests, not how ready for college you are.
But even if you want to argue that the SAT and ACT are useful for college admissions, certainly we can all agree that our current environment is not normal. During this time of quarantine, it seems unkind to add the stress and anxiety of a standardized test to the already wildly disrupted lives of high school students. Removing the burden of the college admissions test is a gesture that goes a long way towards communicating the humanity and empathy of a college.
Will all colleges adopt this policy?
Not likely, because there are pragmatic, bureaucratic reasons why these tests still exist. For example, large state schools use concrete numbers (like an ACT or SAT score) to quickly whittle down their enormous pool of applicants. Particularly because state schools are likely to see a surge in applicants over the next couple of years as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus, a simple metric for comparing applicants will be more attractive than ever to these schools. Standardized test scores are also tied to college rankings, which incentivizes smaller, private colleges to continue requiring the tests as well.
So I have to take the exam anyway? Fine. How do I prepare?
Students who had been preparing to take the exams this spring are understandably upset and frustrated about the cancellations, but there are still quite a few test days coming up, and we have good reason to believe they won’t be cancelled. Currently, there are ACTs being offered in July, September, and October, and there are SATs in August, September, and October. There are plenty of opportunities for students to achieve their best scores, and the additional time can be an opportunity to prepare more slowly, with fewer other obligations taking up your time and attention. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you spend the next several months focused on these exams! During this pandemic, never forget to prioritize your health and safety above all. We have to take care of ourselves, and each other, now more than ever.