Eric E Castro
The ACT score is a major aspect of a college application. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes for the students during this process and the way colleges use standardized test scores. Despite the new accommodations, some students have not even been able to take the ACT exam at all.
Since the start of the pandemic, many students have dealt with their ACT tests being postponed or canceled. According to the official ACT website, these changes have been necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff. ACT has also provided “pop-up” testing locations in areas with especially high numbers of test cancellations, but not all students who had their test cancelled have had access to one of those pop-up locations. For many, these repercussions mean that they are not able to take the ACT when they have planned, and that alone could affect their test performance. “Because all of my tests are now within a couple months of each other, I am expecting [my score] to be a bit lower than I originally wanted since I will have less time to reflect and prepare,” said Jacqueline Pennington, 11.
Other than postponing and canceling ACT testing dates, the in-person ACT testing sites have gone through many changes including a six-foot social distancing protocol between students taking the test, a mandatory face covering requirement and sanitation protocols to protect the students and staff. The College Board, the organization that administers the ACT, also implemented a COVID-19 reporting protocol with guidance from public health officials in order to control any possible outbreaks as fast as possible. Although these protocols are familiar to some students, it can be especially intimidating for others. “With everything they had us doing, combined with how nervous I already was for such a big deal of a test, it was really super intimidating,” said Spencer Fellman, 11. “It almost felt dystopian.” Despite the extra anxiety these requirements may give students, they are necessary for the safety of students and staff. “Without [the protocols], I probably would not have even gone though,” Fellman said.
The major changes of the in-person ACT led to some students wondering if an online ACT option would be better. While a version of an at home test is under development, it has yet to be rolled out as an option for students. There is one difference that stands out the most between the online and paper tests: how soon students receive their score. With the online ACT, students can expect their results within as little as two business days, but with the paper test results, it takes at least two weeks for a student’s score to be returned. Another factor to consider is how comfortable students are with online testing. Although distance learning has familiarized many students with an online format for a test, a majority of student’s test taking history has been with paper tests, so which option is better for a student depends heavily on which setting they are more confident in.
Many colleges have been pushed to make their applications test-optional — meaning standardized tests are not required on an application — due to all the complications stemming from the pandemic. This is good news for students who had trouble with the ACT due to the pandemic, as well as students who are generally less confident in their test taking abilities. In a statement to U.S. News, the College Board said, “Colleges are rightfully emphasizing flexibility for the admissions process for this cycle.”
However, this does not mean that students should skip standardized tests if they have the option. Jed Applerouth, founder and president of Applerouth Tutoring Services, explains why students should still try to take the ACT if possible: “Students who do have strong scores are probably going to stand out a little more in this year,” said Applerouth. “In a pool of candidates lacking scores, an applicant with strong results will stand out.”
Many students who are confident in their test taking abilities hope their ACT score can be an especially strong part of their college applications. The intimidating environment of COVID-19 safe test taking or relentless cancellations could be a big issue for many of those students. On the other hand, for students less confident in their test taking skills, the new test-optional status of many college applications now could be very good news, but a good test score is still very helpful when it comes to getting accepted into a dream school. The build up to college applications have always been a challenge for many students, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added additional challenges. However, the organizations and colleges involved are still working on how to improve the situation as best as possible for students.