Testing in turmoil: Students struggle with lack of ACT/SAT options


Photo by ACT website

Students this summer were greeted with this screen on the ACT website, but past the pop up there were numerous internal issues.

Garrison Sloan, Editor in Chief

For the last several decades, one of the most important parts of the college application process has been standardized testing. The SAT and ACT have been used by colleges for years  to determine academic benchmarks for prospective students; however, like most things this year, this ritual of the admissions process has been heavily disrupted by the pandemic sweeping the globe, but not for the reasons you might think. While most businesses have been hit hardest by the lockdown portion of the pandemic, it has been the reopening of testing centers that has been the most challenging for the standardized testing industry. 

While the SAT has encountered some problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are a far cry from the issues that have plagued the ACT. Like most businesses during the pandemic, the ACT was forced to shut down testing across the country. After all, having between 20 and 40 teens in a single, non-ventilated room for nearly 5 hours would have been a ripe environment for the virus to spread. Unfortunately, cancelling the ACT tests during the summer months created a big issue–demand. A massive amount of students were now in need of a test in the fall, especially seniors who needed to get scores in before the fall admissions deadlines. 

Over the summer, the ACT announced that it would reopen online registration for fall testing on July 27th. This resulted in what can only be described as pure chaos. The day arrived, and immediately the servers were flooded with people trying to register. Within minutes, the site had crashed for many, and the ACT manually took the site down, citing the need to provide a fair chance for everyone to register. 

The ACT published an announcement on July 28th, stating that it would reopen the site on August 3rd using a modified system. This modified system was nothing more than an online queue. While it prevented the site from crashing, it still operated on a first-come, first-served basis. People who logged on to the site just a few minutes too late ended up waiting in a queue that was often hours long. 

Speaking from personal experience, I waited in the queue for around 2 hours. By the time I was able to get in, the earliest dates as well as the closest locations were all gone. I ended up having to settle with an early October test date in Rockford, which was much further away than I would have hoped. 

Andrew Poska, the head of Lake Forest Academy’s admissions office, provided some information on what LFA is doing to help students through this period of testing uncertainty. 

“After all the issues happened with the ACT, we [LFA] registered to offer a private test on October 6th. About 55 students have signed up so far,” he said. 

The private test gave priority sign-up to seniors, who were most in need of the test ahead of college applications. With all the chaos surrounding testing this year, Poska had some advice to give specifically to the seniors this year.

“Don’t worry too much. Testing will play less of a role this year, and a lot more schools have gone test optional,” he said. “What’s more important is getting a good start in classes and writing a good essay, and know that you will get good support from teachers and counselors.” 

It is true that for many schools the ACT and SAT will play a smaller role in admissions this year. One of the major examples Poska cited was a decision made recently by the state of California. The state moved to ban the use of the ACT and SAT for admissions throughout the entire University of California system. 

With the major issues this year, as well as landmark decisions in state university systems like California, it seems like the days of standardized testing may be numbered. However, despite many colleges and counselors saying the tests won’t count as much, for now it seems like many seniors are still scrambling to get tests in anyways, simply to give an extra boost to their resumes as the college application process winds to a close.