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FAQ: Fall 2020 SAT/ACT Testing

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the normally straightforward process of signing up for and taking an SAT or ACT a torturous labyrinth of confusion that raises important (and depressing) questions. Spots for tests in September, October, and November are nearly impossible to come by in some areas of the country, and even if a student does succeed in registering, tests have been canceled as late as the day of the exam. 

Should I even bother signing up and preparing for them in the first place? Where and when should I sign up for them? How do I know if my test has been cancelled? What should I do if my test has been cancelled? Never fear: Brian Smith, one of ESM’s test preparation experts, is here to demystify the process! 

For current seniors, is all of this hassle, stress, and uncertainty surrounding testing really worth it?

It depends. For seniors who have yet to test or have scores lower than their target, the answer is most likely yes. While almost all schools have adopted test-optional policies for the current admissions cycle, a high test score can still be an asset to your application at many schools (though not at UCs, as of one week ago). This is especially true for students with lower GPAs. If you are a student with an otherwise competitive applicant profile who might not test at a level that is competitive at your target or reach schools, the decision becomes a bit more difficult. As always, we strongly recommend that you consult with a college counselor before making this important decision.

How should current sophomores and juniors approach testing during the pandemic?

If you were able to register for a fall test and have been progressing well enough in your preparation to realistically reach your target score in the fall, then it may be best to stay ready while also acknowledging that your test may very well be cancelled. Otherwise, testing simply isn’t worth it for you at the moment, as spots in many major metropolitan areas are already booked until December, and things will (hopefully) be more normal in the spring or even next fall. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start studying soon, however! Given that many fall sports and activities are cancelled, this is the ideal time to start gradually preparing for early 2021 tests. 

If I do choose to try and test in the fall, when and at which location should I attempt to test?

If you are not already registered, you should try to do so immediately for as many dates that have availability remotely close to you (this may be impossible in some places). You can also explore the possibility of standby testing for the ACT, though the chances are likely to be slim. Keep in mind that scores from the November and December tests may be too late for some school deadlines, especially if you’re applying for early decision or early action. 

Where to register is a much trickier question, as it depends on the COVID situation in your area. Generally, what we have seen in the recent past is that the more rural the location of the test center, the more likely it is to have been open for testing. It also depends on how hard-hit your area is by the virus. Test centers are able to cancel testing at a moment’s notice if the COVID situation worsens. Another trend we have seen lately is that if schools in your area are meeting online, the tests have been more likely to be cancelled. If they are able to have students in the classroom, then the tests have been more likely to happen. However, nothing is guaranteed, of course.

How do I know if my test is cancelled? 

Usually, you should receive an email from the College Board or ACT notifying you of a cancellation, unless your test center cancels at the very last minute. You can also check if your test center is on the “cancelled” lists on the College Board and ACT websites, though those are typically slow to update and not necessarily thorough. If your test center does not show up on the list, that does NOT mean your test is guaranteed to happen or that it has not already been cancelled. Both SAT and ACT have made it very clear that tests are subject to cancellation up to and including the day of the test. The best way to confirm is to directly call the test center at which you are registered.

What should I do if my test has been cancelled? 

There’s not a lot you can do, unfortunately. For both tests, once the late registration deadline has passed, you are unable to switch test centers, and you generally don’t find out whether your test is cancelled until after that. If it’s before the deadline, you can try switching your center to a different location free of charge. If your test does get cancelled, it is important to stay patient, keep studying, and prepare for the next date. 

Finally, keep in mind that just because a center is open does not mean it will feel safe to you. If you do not feel comfortable testing, do not test! It is never worth it in that case.