Since March, American schools and students have had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most members of the Class of 2020 had finished with the college application process when the country shut down, so they were able to continue with the decision making process somewhat normally. But now, juniors and seniors are facing uncertainties with many aspects of applying to colleges, including the process of taking standardized tests.
In light of these challenges, many colleges and universities are deciding to make tests like the ACT optional for an application. By doing so, they present a new question, previously unconsidered by juniors: Should they even take the test?
Sarah Hirsch, a junior at Parkway Central High School and Ellior Rose, a junior at Whitfield High School, both of whom attend Congregation B’nai Amoona, have reached different conclusions to this question.
“Bradley University and Mizzou are the two universities I’m mainly looking at right now, and neither of them are requiring it,” Hirsch said. “[These schools] are mainly just looking at your resume as a whole, and my resume is pretty cool, so I thought that would be more important at the moment than what my ACT score looks like.”
Students like Rose think taking the test still is worthwhile.
“Even though it’s optional, if I get a good enough score, it’ll improve my chances of getting into the school,” Rose said. “It’s nice that [the tests] are optional for schools I might not get a high enough score for, but if I do get a really high score, it can only help my chances.”
Hirsch doesn’t necessarily think it would help her, though.
“I’m not too concerned about [having worse chances due to not taking the ACT], because if colleges aren’t requiring it, they won’t pay much attention to the extra stuff,” she said.
The effects of COVID-19 go far beyond colleges’ decisions to make standardized tests optional. Precautions such as social distancing and online learning make preparing for these tests more difficult as well. In November, the ACT board announced it wouldn’t offer any tests in December, which came as a big surprise to students who had planned to take the test then.
“I was supposed to be taking the test [on Dec. 12],” Rose said. “I have been studying since July. I think I will stop studying until a couple weeks before the next test I will take, in February.”
Many students’ college preparation has been negatively affected by the pandemic.
“Usually, I would have gotten a tutor and worked with him in person,” Rose said. “Instead, I’ve been working with him over Zoom, and it’s a little hard. Without in-person communication, it’s more difficult for him to gauge where I’m at, so it’s harder to study effectively.”
The pandemic has affected more than just students; teachers have also had to adapt to all the changes and cancelations brought upon them by various colleges and the ACT.
“There isn’t a blanket statement colleges have released,” said Sarah Reeves, a teacher of an ACT preparation course at Parkway Central High School. “Yes, more colleges are becoming ACT optional, but that’s not a universal action that all colleges have taken. Just like the students, we’re trying to pivot with knowing what to do with colleges.”
Colleges becoming test optional have resulted in another course of action that some students are finding preferable.
“Students are still taking the test, it’s just that they might not send their scores to the colleges,” Reeves said. “Because there are so many uncertainties, I think a lot of students are still taking it and then deciding where to go from there.”
Despite continued uncertainties about how standardized tests will work this year, Reeves explained that teaching the course hasn’t changed much.
“My job is just, this student wants to do well on the ACT, how do we accomplish that?” Reeves said. “[We are] teaching as if a person is interested in a college requiring the ACT, as usual, but preparing them for taking the test online. We pair with Princeton Review, and they have a whole online platform, so we can assign tests on a website and it would be very similar to what it would be like to take the test virtually.”
Test dates may change, but every other aspect has remained relatively static. The test will still mirror tests of years past. Students can choose to not take the test this year, but those who are taking the ACT or other standardized tests should continue as they would in a normal year.
“In terms of my teaching, it wouldn’t be a whole lot different,” Reeves said. “In terms of strategy, we would try to take that to a virtual world, and make sure that students are comfortable taking the test virtually. The best thing to do right now, in my opinion, for students who are looking towards college, is to be prepared for anything.”