The Toll of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Standardized Testing

Samia Sultana '21 studies for her SAT exam, which she took in October 2020.

Samia Sultana

Samia Sultana ’21 studies for her SAT exam, which she took in October 2020.

It is once again the time of college applications and early decisions for high school seniors. However, because of the American government’s inability to control the spread of COVID-19, many Standardized Test centers have closed, leaving hundreds of thousands of students across America unable to take the SAT and ACT. For the 334,000 students who applied to take the SAT in September 2020, more than half were unable to take it. For many students, the experience has been frustrating and discouraging.

“I studied months prior to taking a new SAT in the hopes of improving my score. To then have the test cancelled is very disheartening for me, and for my peers who have had similar experiences,” said Youngbin Song ’21.

Fortunately, due to the overwhelming number of Standardized Test cancellations, many universities are taking these unprecedented circumstances into consideration. 500 schools, including Yale and Harvard, pledged to be test-optional, and will temporarily suspend standardized testing requirements. Yale, for example, has written on their website, “Applicants who are unable to complete an exam or who choose not to report exam scores will not be disadvantaged.” They also said subject tests will not be considered for the current admissions cycle. Experts on college admissions such as Jeffrey Selingo, a former editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, have said that some universities expect only 50% of students to submit their test scores. As a result, Selingo continued, it is unlikely that those who do not report their scores will be considered outliers. Despite this change, many students still suspect that applicants who were able to take the test will have an advantage over those who have not.

Maanya Shah ’21 has doubts about the “test-optional” choice. She said, “Even though all these schools whose informational webinars I attended over the past four months have said they’re test-optional, the rush of students who are still taking their SATs, ACTs, and more, makes it pretty clear that the holistic review process that the admissions reps emphasized would probably be better with the scores included as part of the application, than without.”

Other students have theorized that the cancellation of standardized testing would mean the rest of their application, such as grades, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and essays would be graded more harshly this year compared to the pre-COVID-19 world.

“Since many colleges have become test-optional, everything else in the application will have more weight, especially essays,” said Phoebe Marbid ’21. “While it is important, a student’s GPA might have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, just like standardized testing was, due to changing learning platforms and grading policies. Essays are the only part of all college applications that provide students the opportunity to speak beyond their numbers and explain other aspects that may be lacking.”

According to a study done at UC Riverside, while a combination of grades and test scores were able to accurately predict college performance and graduation rates, a student’s GPA proved to be the best single indicator of college success, leading some to wonder if they should ditch standardized testing altogether to benefit more low-income minority students. The crisis caused by the current Coronavirus pandemic appears to be testing this theory, to see if college performance could equally be predicted without the SAT or ACT than with those scores.

“I studied months prior to taking a new SAT in the hopes of improving my score. To then have the test cancelled is very disheartening for me, and for my peers who have had similar experiences,” said Youngbin Song ’21.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email