SAT/ACT prep for at-home exams as more colleges go test-optional

The College Board, which administers the SAT, last week canceled its June exam and outlined how it could meet pent-up demand—including a possible at-home testing option, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Estimating that one million first-time SAT-takers in the high school Class of 2021 have had their exams canceled this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board said it plans to offer the exam every month from August through December, if safe. The organization also is preparing for the possibility that schools won’t reopen in the fall. In that scenario, students will be able to take the SAT digitally at home.

Similarly, the ACT said it will aim to offer additional testing dates this summer, asserting in a statement that it sees the test as even more crucial “now as other admission information, such as grades, courses, and GPAs, may be missing or partial.” The ACT also is prepared to provide at-home digital testing this fall, if needed.

Equity, privacy concerns over at-home testing

While acknowledging that at-home testing would be unprecedented and require extensive “remote proctoring,” the College Board says this wouldn’t be the first time that the SAT was administered digitally. High schools in several states have done so in the past. The College Board also plans to administer at-home Advanced Placement tests next month, offering “a kind of dress rehearsal for a digital SAT,” writes The New York Times.

Critics, however, are pointing to the digital divide and voicing concerns that at-home testing could further exacerbate disparities. “You’re going to have an upper-middle-class kid with his own bedroom and his own computer system with a big monitor in a comfortable environment taking his SATs,” Mark Sklarow, chief executive of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, told the Times. “And you’re going to have a kid who lives in a home maybe with spotty broadband, one family computer in the dining room. I don’t know how that can be equitable.”

Others, meanwhile, are raising concerns about the potential for cheating and privacy issues, given that the remote proctoring system would need to lock down the test-taker’s computer and control its camera and microphone.

More colleges suspending testing requirements

As The College Board and ACT Inc consider these changes, a growing number of colleges and universities are temporarily, and in some cases permanently, dropping their standardized testing requirements for prospective applicants. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an advocate for test-optional policies, at least 30 institutions took this step in the first week of April alone for students who would matriculate in the fall of 2021, joining more than 1,000 four-year colleges that won’t require the ACT/SAT next year.

Related: Could COVID-19 accelerate the switch to test-optional admissions policies? >

The nine-campus University of California system recently said it would temporarily waive the system’s standardized testing requirement, and the California State University system will go test optional, too, in hopes to “provide some measure of relief to prospective students and their families.”

Several top-ranking colleges, including Williams College, Amherst College, Boston University, and Davidson College have all decided to go test-optional in wake of the pandemic. “This is an unprecedented moment for students and colleges alike, and it calls for a change to the usual way of doing things,” Liz Creighton, the dean of admission and financial aid at Williams, said in a statement.

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