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A Letter From Summit Founder Charlie O’Hearn During the COVID-19 Crisis

Summit has always been committed to providing our constituents – students, parents, and counselors – with sane and sensible testing advice and the most up-to-date information on college admissions testing. It feels more important now than ever before that we fulfill that promise.

To that end, we’ve created a resource page for juniors, sophomores, and their families, and we update it regularly. We are also hosting frequently scheduled webinars to address all of the current testing-related issues.

It’s a difficult and, in many instances, devastating time for so many individuals, businesses, and institutions around the world. My sister lives in northern Italy, and my brother is on the verge of shutting down his restaurant. No one is really “immune” to COVID-19, and at a minimum, we are all testing positive for deep, COVID-related angst.

For juniors and their parents, though, there is a specific kind of anxiousness as the normal process for applying to college has been turned on its head. SAT and ACT test dates have been canceled. Shortened versions of AP exams will be offered for students to take at home. Grades for the second half of the year are uncertain. Sports and other extracurricular activities have all been canceled. And there is uncertainty about how colleges will view applicants from the high school class of 2021.

I hope the notes below provide some reassurance and clarity as you navigate this process.

The March SAT, April ACT, and May SAT have all been canceled. Neither College Board nor ACT has made an official announcement about the June dates but expect an announcement soon. Students should operate on the assumption that the June dates will happen, but given that entire states have canceled school for the year (e.g., Virginia and Michigan), we suspect that June test dates will be canceled soon.

The ACT has COVID-19 related information here.
College Board has a dedicated page here.

Even if June gets canceled, there are still the usual summer and fall test dates. Students should take comfort. First, and most importantly, summer and fall dates will give students who have yet to sit for an official SAT or ACT an opportunity to take a test once or twice. Secondly, the data show that students score their best on the SAT and ACT the later they take it. Maturity matters. Lastly, tests taken before November will generally be accepted for early admissions. See our resource page for test dates and test planning recommendations.

The College Board is suggesting that it will introduce additional test dates. The biggest effort is toward working with schools to schedule an additional national test day and/or offer more “School Day” administrations. Learn more here. It is considering dates from July through September. Getting schools on board will be the biggest challenge. Stay tuned.

The College Board’s second, parallel effort is creating a platform for offering digital tests. The pandemic and the possibility that schools won’t open in the fall have created urgency around a heretofore slower move toward digital testing. The primary obstacles are test security and equity. Online testing is not uncommon – the GRE and TOEFL are both offering “at-home” digital testing – but administering 2,000,000+ tests? Nothing to that scale has been done before. Hard to say how quickly they could get something launched, but they are pouring substantial resources into this digital effort.

Unless you’ve already locked in an SAT or ACT score, students should de-prioritize Subject Tests in favor of an SAT or ACT. There are no longer any schools that require Subject Tests from all applicants, and those 12 or so selective schools that recommend them are downplaying their importance this year. This message on Harvard’s website is typical: “You will not be disadvantaged in any way if you do not submit Subject Tests.”

On the heels of canceling the usual AP exam dates, the College Board has developed 45-minute, online, free-response exams that students can do at home on any device. Most exams will consist of one or two free-response questions. Dates and details were released Friday. Exams will be offered from May 11-22. See here for the specifics.

You are not alone. Almost every junior in the country is experiencing the same nervousness and facing the same disruptions. Colleges are keenly aware and understanding. Some are going test-optional for this high school class of 2021, and more will do the same before summer is over. And colleges that are asking for scores are softening their language if not their requirements.

From Tulane University: “We understand that the decisions College Board and ACT are making are completely out of your control. Tulane evaluates applications holistically and test scores are just a part of the application. We completely understand that you may only be able to take one test before you submit your application. We also will not ding anyone who does not take the AP/IB tests for their class.”

From Yale University: “Yale requires all applicants for first-year and transfer admission to report results from the ACT or SAT. At this time, we expect there will be sufficient opportunities for all applicants to complete the ACT or SAT before the next admissions deadlines. If Yale’s policies change, we will provide public notice as soon as possible. All other standardized tests (i.e. SAT subject tests, AP exams, IB exams, A-Level exams) are optional. We do not expect students currently enrolled in academic-year courses associated with any of these tests to complete these exams in spring or summer 2020. Students may choose to complete these exams this year if circumstances allow, or not.”

From Vassar College: “Vassar College will waive its admission requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT test scores, President Elizabeth H. Bradley announced. The new pilot policy will go into effect for the 2020–21 admission cycle. The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant disruptions for students, with some tests having been canceled, and with families facing other extraordinary circumstances that make taking these tests at this time an undue burden.”

Even with the “softening,” we’d encourage students to put their best foot forward on the testing front. If you were planning to take an AP test, then prepare for and take the in-home version. You have nothing to lose. If they’re good, send them. If not, no one needs to know. Similarly, do your best on the SAT and ACT whenever you take them. Submitting strong, above-average scores provides colleges another data point that shows off your skills.

And lastly, my philosophical spin on the crisis: There will be positives that emerge from this crisis, locally and globally. It’s forced us to slow down, or at least forced us to try to come to grips with slowing down – an endeavor that might prove more valuable than racing to the next activity or toward the next goal.

Meanwhile, Summit continues to operate at full capacity, offering our test prep/tutoring and practice tests in the online environment that has become the norm for students. I encourage you to reach out to me or any member of the Summit team at any time with questions.

From all of us at Summit, we wish you all peace, safety, and health.

-Charlie

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Showing 4 comments
  • Avatar
    Krista Hitchens
    Reply

    Hi, thank you for your kind and positive post. My son was set to take the HiSET before summer but will they be giving it online anywhere? Just wondering what all these students are supposed to do! Ty for your help!

    • Karen Guetersloh
      Karen Guetersloh
      Reply

      Thank you for your comments. Summit’s test industry expertise is in SAT/PSAT, AP, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE.

      Unfortunately we aren’t able to help with the answer to your question about HiSET. Your best bet is to contact the organization directly.

      Best wishes for your safety and good health.

  • Avatar
    Geoffrey B Stearns
    Reply

    Charlie,
    Thanks for your calming words at this difficult time. You have offered a wonderful resource to help us stay on top of
    trends in standardized testing during the Covid-19 crisis. Stearns Group Educational Services appreciates all you do
    for our students.
    Be safe and stay well,
    Geoff

  • Avatar
    Elizabeth Bell
    Reply

    Thanks for the webinar for those of us who signed up but could not make it yesterday I just listened to the entire presentation. It was very informative and helpful for me to have information to share with my students and families.
    Betsy Bell
    Acorn Educational Consulting

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