SAT canceled mid-pandemic; seniors travel far to test sites


Photos provided by Claire Claypool

Senior Claire Claypool studies for the SAT at her desk.

Pallavi Gorantla, Reporter

On Aug. 29, senior Andrew Weiner drove to Sealy, Texas to take the SAT because all the locations in Houston were canceled. Test proctors were surprised when he said he came from Bellaire. 

“The most surprising thing to me was that the proctors, being teachers, said that their high school had been operating almost normally aside from sanitizing desks and door handles after every class and social distancing,” said Weiner.

Although Weiner chose to take the SAT, U.S. colleges have made the once-required SAT/ACT score optional. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, over 1600 colleges and universities made this decision.

Princeton University canceled early action to make the regular January deadline the only application deadline. The University of California system decided to remain test-optional for the 2020 and 2021 application cycles, while Tufts University will be test-optional for three years. 

Texas schools like The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, Texas Tech University, Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University have all temporarily taken away their testing requirements for 2021.

“I think the SAT being canceled is going to change the college admissions process for our class drastically,” Weiner said. “Because almost half of the seniors this year have not taken any standardized tests, many colleges like CalTech do not require scores and some will not even look at them, so the essays, grades and extracurriculars will be much more important this year.” 

Senior Shirley Zhu went to Thurgood Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas on Aug. 28 to take the SAT.  

“I had my temperature checked before I stepped into the school building,” Zhu said. “All students and test administrators were wearing masks. The students were also placed one per table, at least six feet apart from each other in the testing classroom.”

CollegeBoard requires students to wear masks and sit 6 feet apart during testing. The Center for Disease Control recommends gloves and hand sanitizer.  

Students and staff are encouraged to wash their hands regularly and stay home if they are sick. Some centers now have a limited testing capacity to follow local health guidelines. Students must also take a small survey related to COVID-19 prior to the SAT to determine if the students can enter the building.

“Knowing how much of a struggle it is to be able to take a test right now living in an urban area, I think that it is reasonable that colleges should not require standardized test scores,” Weiner said.

Senior Claire Claypool said that if students have the opportunity, they should take the test. She took the SAT in Marshall, TX, a small city of about 23,000 residents because she knew it would likely not be canceled.

“Everyone there was wearing masks and once we got into the classroom they had us sit like several desks away from each other, so there was no contact at all,” Claypool said.

Seniors who want to send a test score have to do it soon as test centers cancel exam dates due to safety issues. Thirteen Houston centers closed, and college deadlines are coming up. 

The term “test-optional” makes students question if they should take the SAT/ACT or not. Will colleges focus more on extracurriculars and essays if a student doesn’t submit a standardized test score? 

“If you take two students that have everything the exact same, but then one has an SAT score and one doesn’t, I don’t know how they’re going to determine which student would get in or if it’s going to affect it at all,” Claypool said.

Since scores are optional, in most cases only high ones will be submitted and this means they can’t be used to differentiate between students. Zhu gave her opinion on standardized tests and ranked the importance of the SATs on a scale from one to ten.

 “In a normal school year, eight – but this school year, three,” Zhu said. “In a more ordinary school year, I think colleges do use standardized tests as a mark for academic excellence. This year, however, I think other parts of the college application – including the essay responses, school transcript, and recommendation letters – will play a bigger role, while the standardized test scores will be weighed less.”

Making these tests optional raises the question if colleges need to make the scores required in future years.

“I think standardized tests do help colleges get a measure of a student’s ability in math and reading,” Zhu said. “Obviously one test score doesn’t tell a full story. But as one piece in a holistic view, I think that the SAT and ACT scores are useful to colleges, and colleges will probably continue to make it necessary.”