To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

For 2020-21 seniors, test scores are, for the first time ever, completely off of the table. Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test in the spring, schools are not requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. 

If your child is a senior this year (2020-21), important admissions factors will include their grades in college prep classes, strength of curriculum, admissions essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and AP/IB test scores. Testing isn’t much of a concern.

But what if your child is a junior, sophomore, or freshman? Read on to learn more about what you need to know. 

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind

After this year, we expect schools to once again fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors. Although no scores are required for this year’s seniors, we don’t expect many schools to be test-blind for future applicants.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

For example, UVA is test-required for any students not in this year’s senior class. As of right now, their website indicates that current juniors will be required to submit a test score with their applications next year. William and Mary, on the other hand, is launching a test-optional pilot. For the next three years, they’re going to test out a test-optional policy, then decide whether or not to revert to their test-required policy. 

James Madison, George Mason, and Christopher Newport are test-optional—so is VCU, although test scores are recommended there. Typically, when you’re applying to a college, you should follow their recommendations!

Reporting Test Scores to Colleges

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test—but they don’t need to automatically report their scores!

Even test-required schools allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

There’s also something called “super scoring,” where the college will cherry-pick your best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt for a final score of 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually got each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep—just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. 

For now, visit our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.