High school students no longer cram in testing centers for exams. As SAT and ACT exams are postponed, some future Cornell applicants agree with the University's decision to temporarily waive testing requirements.

Ben Sklar / The New York Times

High school students no longer cram in testing centers for exams. As SAT and ACT exams are postponed, some future Cornell applicants agree with the University's decision to temporarily waive testing requirements.

April 27, 2020

Canceled Exams and Ungraded Classes: High School Juniors Respond to Cornell’s Suspended SAT, ACT Requirement

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For some high school students, junior year means pouring over practice exams and spending Saturdays bubbling multiple choice answers in packed classrooms.

Now, incoming Cornell applicants have the option to toss their test prep books behind them.

Cornell’s announcement to temporarily suspend SAT and ACT requirements for 2020-2021 applicants due to COVID-19 disruptions has prompted a deluge of both positive and negative reactions from current high school juniors and Cornell students.

Chinese International School junior Davis Cheng already received an ACT score he is satisfied with, and is still planning to send his score to universities in the fall. However, he said Cornell’s decision to waive standardized testing requirements for his applicant year frustrated him.

“The time that I spent allocating to one part of my C.V. now is no longer useful,” Cheng said. “I could have spent that time improving the rest of my C.V., so I think that has harmed my applications overall.”

Cheng spent a “significant amount of time and effort” towards bolstering his score, and said if he had known about the scrapped testing requirement earlier, he would have spent the time working towards better grades in his IB classes instead.

Other students that have already finished standardized testing agree with some of Cheng’s disappointment about Cornell’s policy change.

“Because the standardized tests tend to pull me up a little bit, I would prefer if it weren’t optional because then it would have more weight,” said Addison Hyde, a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina who attends the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts.

Still, Hyde said that based on current circumstances, Cornell made the right decision, calling test scores “the last thing people should be worried about.”

Similarly, Matthew Toral — a junior from Long Island attending Sachem High School East — said he thinks optional test scores is the “right move,” considering canceled exams and the economic burdens they place on families during a time of rising unemployment.

Because COVID-19 has caused SAT and ACT testing cancellations, students who planned on sending their standardized test scores but would still like to improve them are no longer sure when they will have another chance.

Groton School junior Eric Schiavone from East Palmetto, Florida took the SAT and ACT one time each, and is unsure when he can take them again.

Schiavone had planned to take the SAT again in May. But with more cancellations, the next earliest test date is currently August 29, although the College Board could suspend this exam too, depending on how the pandemic unfolds in the coming months.

Toral, who took the SAT last December, has landed in a similar situation as Schiavone: He planned to take the exam again but is unsure when.

On top of limited opportunities to retake standardized testing, some high schools have changed their grading policies for the remaining few months. According to Toral, Sachem East will no longer have final exams. In addition, he also mentioned that their last quarter has switched to pass or fail grading.

Due to this change, Toral is concerned how admissions officers could potentially perceive his applications.

“If your SAT wasn’t as good and you didn’t send it, [admissions] is going to look at your grades even more, so that kind of ties into the stressful situation of now on top of fourth quarter being pass or fail, now your grades count more,” Toral said.

Though Toral is satisfied with his third quarter grades, he worried about students applying to Cornell who could not use their final quarter of junior year to boost their GPA.

“If I didn’t do well the last three quarters, then I’m kind of screwing myself over because now I can’t improve my GPA,” Toral said, “and if I didn’t do well on my SAT, then [admissions is] going to look at [my GPA] even more.”

Sophie Jin ’23 also remembers the importance of her last quarter of junior year high school. She took both the SAT and ACT and sent her SAT score to Cornell.

“I know junior year fourth quarter, I raised [my grades] and I think that’s the same thing that a lot of people have [done]” Jin said.

For students at Toral’s school, this final stretch of the school year will no longer offer an alternative way to make up for a potentially lower standardized test score.

Given the current unprecedented situation, Jin said she supports Cornell’s decision to suspend the test score requirement and believes the move is best for every applicant.

“If you’re going to make a standard like this, it’s better to make it so that it makes life easier for the student that is most disadvantaged,” Jin said.

However, it is unclear if there is a possibility that the one-year testing relief could turn into a permanent change.

“We will evaluate our experience during the upcoming reading cycle and review our policies and options then,” reads the undergraduate admissions website.