Pandemic brings changes to standardized testing


Farah Caban

Students taking the SAT and ACT must sit six feet apart and wear masks at all times.

Farah Caban, Business Manager

The SAT and ACT have long been important moments for many high school students, a benchmark of moving towards college and a terrifying ranking of one’s intelligence. Standardized tests are over a century old, starting in 1905 when the first “College Boards” were administered to fewer than 1000 high school students. These boards were five days long and tested on over nine subjects, including Latin, Greek, and Physics. In the 1940s, the SAT was used to find men to serve in the Navy and ten years later to determine who would not need to fight in the Korean War. In 1941, the SAT was required for all applicants to Harvard. Since then, the SAT and ACT have become a regular part of the college application process for many high school students, with four total subjects tested and over three million tests administered each year. COVID-19 makes administering and taking standardized tests increasingly difficult due to the need to enforce social distancing protocols, forcing students and universities alike to adapt to a changing college admissions process. 


Over 11 SATs and eight ACTs have been canceled throughout the Bay Area since March of 2020. These cancellations complicated college applications for 2021 and impact current juniors who have begun to sign up for tests to prepare for their applications next fall. Testing has stopped for seniors, but many juniors have been studying for the ACT or SAT and have experienced test cancellations. 

“I have been studying [for the ACT] since the summer of 2019… and I actually booked a couple of dates …  but I haven’t gotten to take a single test yet,” junior Hrudhai Umas said. 

The ACT cancellations have been inconsistent in many ways: the students are not always notified, the testing sites can be canceled up to the day before and while some tests are not canceled, other tests less than 10 miles away are. As of Sunday, Jan. 31, the February ACT at Carlmont High School in Belmont had been canceled, but the test at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel in Burlingame had not been canceled. Some students were notified of cancellations the day before the test was supposed to happen throughout the year. 


Many of Burlingame’s current seniors did not have the opportunity to take the SAT or ACT and had to submit their college applications without any test scores. Burlingame held an official SAT on Oct. 14, 2020 for seniors who wanted a chance to take a test to submit. Senior Liv Jones took this SAT but did not end up submitting her score. 

“I didn’t submit, so I obviously didn’t do as well as I wanted to do on this test because I didn’t know about the school one, so I just assumed that I just wasn’t going to be able to take the SAT at all. So then, all of a sudden, we had the school one, and I didn’t have time to study,” Jones said. “I don’t personally know anyone who submitted their BHS SAT score.”

Less than ideal circumstances put Jones in an uncomfortable situation, being forced to opt-out of submitting the test, along with many other students who shared her frustrations or didn’t have the opportunity to take the test at all. She was not the only student who had to submit their application without scores, which was permitted as many colleges across the country were test-optional this year. 


“Almost every college and university across the country went test-blind or test-optional. They knew that there was limited access to tests, and they weren’t gonna hold that against anybody who was not able to take one,” Burlingame’s college and career counselor Jonathan Dhyne said. According to the University of California (UC) website, “UC will not consider SAT or ACT test scores when making admissions decisions or awarding Regents and Chancellor’s scholarships.”

The UC schools were required by a judge to have this test-blind policy for the class of 2021 and will be test-optional until 2024 when they hope to eliminate standardized testing on their applications entirely. By 2025, the schools want to have their own type of standardized test. Although the UC schools have already announced their testing policy for the class of 2022, not all schools have. Cancelations of these tests are bound to create stress for students, but schools understand the limited testing options available and have adjusted their applications accordingly. However, the lack of test scores in applications increases pressure on the other parts of the application process.

“I think the essays are important for sure. I think the letters of recommendation really help, especially because everyone [at BHS] has a semester of credit/no credit grades. I think for teachers to be able to kind of add some additional context to a student’s performance in the classroom could be super helpful,” Dhyne said. 

During the beginning of the pandemic, the San Mateo Union High School District decided to switch all classes for the semester to credit /no credit, which now appears on transcripts when applying to college. 

Many junior students have begun to worry about their applications without test scores and a semester without grades. Dhyne encourages students to stay calm. 

“I would recommend juniors to just keep on checking the resources that we’re sending out, you know, there’s a lot of good stuff out there,” Dhyne said. 

For more information from the BHS counselors, visit the Daily Bulletin or the BHS counseling page.