When John Szijjarto ’21 opened an email from College Board on Aug. 29, he was disappointed to find out that his SAT exam had been canceled for the fifth time. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, test centers across the country have canceled standardized tests multiple times since March.
“It is painful to have my SAT test dates repeatedly getting canceled,” Szijjarto said. “I’ve been preparing to take the test for a year, and I’ve spent so much time and effort to get the best score possible, and I don’t want that preparation to go to waste. I know my SAT score would serve to help my chances of getting into a selective university, and the idea of not having that opportunity is difficult for me to grapple with.”
Although many colleges, including the Ivy League schools and institutions within the University of California system, have declared test-optional policies for this year’s admission season, some students are still planning to take standardized tests.
“I planned to take a standardized test because I have been preparing to take the SAT for the better part of a year, and my scores are good,” Szijjarto said. “I think that taking an SAT and receiving a very high score can really help to further my college application.”
College admissions officers will still consider test scores
Head of Upper School Beth Slattery said that although many colleges are declaring test-optional, the admissions officers may still be tempted to consider testing as a factor in admissions.
“I worry because colleges get so many applications and are understaffed that sometimes their ability to actually really read deeply can be challenged,” Slattery said. “I worry that they are actually going to rely on the quick and dirty ways of admitting kids by just using grades or just using test scores.”
Even though Szijjarto signed up for the SAT at test centers outside of Los Angeles, he said he is still uncertain of whether the examination will take place.
“I planned to take the SAT at many different locations,” Szijjarto said. “I’ve scheduled to take the test at my school, in at least four separate counties besides LA County and in another state. All of my tests so far have been canceled.”
Szijjarto said that planning for the SAT out of state was difficult.
“It was not challenging to plan a road trip to the closer counties, as the drive wouldn’t be more than three hours,” Szijjarto said. “The drive to another state, Oregon, on the other hand, was going to be very, very difficult. The drive takes an entire day. I would have to go during school, and I would need to be on my computer using a hot-spot for at least seven hours.”
However, Slattery said she thinks students from the school will still be competitive for college admissions without having to go out of their way to take a standardized test.
“Even though I have concerns about how colleges will use testing, I am not sure I love the idea of people traveling all over the place,” Slattery said. “I think our students, even without testing, are actually going to be really impressive candidates. So, I don’t think our kids need it as much as they think they need it.”
The school schedules more testing opportunities for seniors
In an effort to provide more options to take the SAT exam, the school added a test date scheduled for Oct. 14, exclusively for the senior class. In a poll of 184 students, about 58% reported that they signed up for the new test date.
Director of Standard and Special Testing Nathaly Blanco said the October SAT School Day could provide an additional opportunity for students to take the exam without interfering with regularly scheduled classes. The school has also added two ACT exam administrations in September and October.
“Seniors have experienced the stress and unease of the pandemic and subsequent test cancellations throughout the spring and summer,” Blanco said. “With the limited testing seats available in the fall, we hope the added test dates provide seniors with an opportunity to take the exam and alleviate some of the distress.”
Blanco said the College Board and ACT dictate all testing dates and administrations, and the school will consider adding alternate SAT and ACT testing opportunities when possible.
“While Harvard-Westlake is hoping to administer all upcoming scheduled exams, the health and safety of students and proctors is of utmost importance,” Blanco said. “We are trying our best to help and to provide whatever opportunities College Board and ACT make available.”
Administrators express their thoughts on how testing will affect the college process
Associate Head of School Laura Ross said she is concerned about how the test-optional policy will impact areas beyond the admissions process.
“I am grateful that so many colleges went test-optional in this time,” Ross said. “But I also [hope that] students who want the opportunity to test get that. [Although] schools are test-optional, what I worry is, are all scholarship programs test-optional? Are there still things where the school says they are test optional, but there are places where students are not getting opportunities?”
Upper School Dean Sara Brookshire, previously the Director of Admissions at Brandeis University, said the pandemic has provided an opportunity for colleges to reflect on and make changes to their admissions process.
“I think that the people having the biggest scramble are going to be the admissions offices that weren’t before test-optional,” Brookshire said. “[They] now need to figure out how they evaluate students in a world where they don’t have those test scores because for many schools, they think of it as an even playing field, in that every kid no matter where they go to school or where they live in the country or possibly the world takes the same kind of test.”
Brookshire said she believes the testing system has been flawed for a long time.
“We have to think really critically about what it means to be admissible to a college that is selective,” Brookshire said. “It’s going to be hard. A lot of value proposition questions need to take place on college campuses, but at the end of the day, I think that we are going to pay more attention to what you actually do every single day as a student in hard classes at a great school like Harvard-Westlake than what you did one time at the end of your junior year on a Saturday morning when you were really tired. So that should not define your worth or your ability to be successful in college, in my opinion.”