During the COVID pandemic, ACT and SAT testing has been postponed repeatedly in Florida, leading to a domino effect that worries local education leaders. Some students are delaying their preparations for the SAT or ACT, or planning to skip them altogether.

We spoke with Kristi Anderson, Director of Huntington Learning Center in Lakeland, about the impact of SAT/ACT changes, and current misconceptions about colleges and universities making these tests optional. Huntington Learning Center is a Lakeland Sponsor, they have many years of experience and a wealth of knowledge about issues related to education, tutoring, and college prep.

Read a summary of our conversation below. Huntington is also available to answer your specific questions about ACT and SAT prep and tutoring, call 863-709-9600 to learn more.

Editor’s Note: We recognize that standardized test scores are only one aspect of a student’s aptitude, and students who struggle with test-taking might not have a score that truly demonstrates their knowledge. Standardized testing is a separate conversation, today our goal is to help high school students and families understand how ACT and SAT scores are used outside of college applications and when to prepare for these tests. 

Q: How have the rescheduled SAT and ACT test dates affected students?

SAT and ACT Tests that were originally scheduled in March, April, May, and June have been canceled/postponed. Students decide months in advance when they will take the ACT vs. SAT (or both) and often spend the 8 to 12 weeks prior to test day preparing for the test. Luckily, we have been able to work with our current Test Prep students to stretch out their study plan so that they continue to practice up until test day.

One trend we are seeing now is rising Seniors are putting off preparing for the SAT and ACT because they worry about fall tests being postponed. This could become an issue if students need to re-take the test during the year to raise their score. Most students take the official test 2-3 times. Students who just finished their Junior year should be making plans now to take the SAT or ACT this fall. Currently, test dates are scheduled monthly beginning in July once testing sites reopen.

Visit the College Board SAT Website or ACT Website to see upcoming SAT Test Dates and ACT Test Dates as well as registration deadlines. These websites can also help you find testing centers near you.

Q: We’ve been hearing the term “test-optional” lately – what does that mean?

It means that a college or university does not require the ACT or SAT as part of the college application and admission process. There are some schools that already offered test-optional admissions, and a second group of schools that have temporarily suspended SAT/ACT requirements for students entering in the fall of 2020. Some test-optional colleges do have a minimum GPA requirement for the ACT/SAT to be optional, and most of them still accept test scores as part of the overall application. Also important to note, some schools only accept test-optional applications from in-state students. 

I want to be sure all parents and students realize that “test-optional” college applications are only available for select schools, it is not across the board for all colleges and universities, despite it being a trending topic over the past few months. It also means that schools will scrutinize your GPA, extracurriculars, and other application details more thoroughly. 

Admission requirements for Fall 2021 (rising High School Seniors) have not been published yet by most schools.

Q: What kind of conversations are you having with parents and students about the “test-optional” trend? Is this something students should take advantage of and skip taking the SAT and ACT?

There has been a lot of discussion about college application requirements, with some students indicating they would like to skip the test and only apply for test-optional schools. While this seems like a good way to avoid the stress of taking these standardized tests, there are other ramifications students and parents may not realize. SAT and ACT scores are often required for scholarships and class placement, and can open up additional opportunities for students. 

Q: Can you talk about some of the most common ways SAT or ACT scores are used in addition to college admission applications?

Bright Futures – To qualify for a Bright Futures Scholarship from the State of Florida, a student must meet the required minimum score on either the ACT or SAT college entrance exam. The minimum scores must be met by June 30 of the high school graduation year (exceptions for 2020 graduates are currently being discussed).

College Scholarships – Many scholarships require an SAT or ACT score to be submitted with the application, especially merit-based scholarships. Some schools even award automatic or guaranteed scholarships based on SAT/ACT scores and/or GPA. Some out of state schools will also give in-state tuition rates to out of students who meet specific GPA and test score criteria. This can be a huge savings! 

Admission to Specific Majors – Subject-specific Majors or Colleges within a university may require the SAT or ACT score for their own admission process.

Student Athletes – Athletes may need to meet GPA and test score requirements to play at D1 schools and to receive athletic scholarships.

Q: When should students start thinking about these tests? 

Summer is an ideal time for students to go through a test prep program because they don’t have additional responsibilities or distractions from school. The summer between Junior and Senior year is the time to focus on the ACT or SAT for students planning on traditional college applications. Some students might also need to start thinking about the SAT or ACT as sophomores or juniors – student athletes and students applying to specific programs like dance or film may need scores as early as fall of their Junior year when they begin talking to college scouts.

Q: How can Huntington Learning Center help students prepare for the SAT or ACT?

At Huntington, we create a personalized plan for each and every student in our tutoring and test prep programs. For test prep, we start with a practice test to determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT based on the student’s strengths. We also talk about goals – a student trying to obtain the highest score on the SAT will have a different study plan than a student who needs just 1 additional point on the ACT to qualify for a scholarship. We can also help students and families understand the difference between the ACT and SAT and decide which test to take. SAT Tutoring is also available for SAT Subject Tests. 

Huntington’s Test Prep Programs are always one to one with experienced teachers and include content review based on student strengths and weaknesses, test-taking strategy, and work on timing. Our test prep includes SAT Practice Tests and ACT Practice Tests. We are happy to be offering both online and in-center sessions depending on student preference and comfort level. 

Visit our website to learn more or call us at 863-709-9600.

SAT Test Prep Lakeland FL

Q: What else can rising Seniors do to prepare for college during this time of uncertainty?

In addition to SAT/ACT prep, this is a great time to look for local volunteer opportunities, start the Common App or Coalition App, research colleges online, and take virtual tours. Make a list of the schools you are applying for and their specific requirements. Start thinking about your essay(s) – some schools use the Common App or the Coalition App essay prompts. Others have their own essay or personal statement requirements. If you need recommendation letters, you need to have a plan of who you are going to ask and make sure you give them enough time to write you a good recommendation.

Q: Do you have any other advice for parents and students?

The last few months have given us all a lot of challenges. Don’t lose sight of your goals or let yourself get thrown off track for the college admissions process. We are here to help in any way we can. Please reach out and let us know what we can do for you. We even offer free community workshops on this and other education-related topics. If you would like to host one, please let us know.