As the 2019-20 “coronavirus schoolyear” comes to a close, graduated seniors preparing for higher education, upcoming seniors preparing for standardized testing and current students gearing up for another year are encountering a shift in how education is being tested and administered. For many, the stakes are high.
For high school students, ACT has put out a notice, informing test takers that the testing organization has cancelled all in-person exams until June 13, which is subject to change. However, due to the nationwide closures of in-person high schools and the transition to remote teaching, an increasing number of colleges and universities are waiving these test requirements. Among those schools accepting applications without ACT or SAT scores are Cornell University, Harvard College, Dartmouth College, Yale and Brown University. In Arkansas, Southern Arkansas University announced mid-April that they would be waiving ACT and SAT requirements for students entering during this following summer or fall.
“In these exceptional times, many students are having challenges in taking and/or retaking the ACT,” SAU President Dr. Trey Berry said in a statement. “We want to allow students to have the opportunity to gain admission to SAU this year with this waiver.”
In addition, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has also waived the requirement.
Upcoming college seniors are also facing a shift in how they are preparing for their graduate school testing, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). For both the GRE and the LSAT, at-home, online alternatives have been made available.
“I hope this format will make me perform better since I will be in the comforts of my own home,” senior biology major Gracie Jones said. “I am anticipating that I will still be very nervous about the exam, but I hope that I will be well prepared enough to do just as well if not better than if I took the test in person.” Jones is planning on taking the GRE in order to attend physician school after graduation.
The LSAT has introduced the LSAT-Flex, an online, remotely proctored version of the original test. This test is intended for test takers who were previously registered for the in-person exam in April and June, as both months’ testing dates have been cancelled until further notice. The new format requires test takers to gain access to a Windows or Mac laptop or desktop computer, stable Internet and a webcam. The format is live-proctored, and the proctor reserves the right to terminate the exam at any point if they believe the test has been compromised. According to the Law School Admission Counsel, the LSAT-Flex format is not currently intended as a long-term option.
“As the last two months of classes were moved to virtual instruction, I had to take several exams online,” senior political science major Abby Turner said. “However, none have been nearly as long or intense as the LSAT will be when I take it in July. I noticed during my university finals, I had a hard time staying focused, and my eyes became tired very quickly. I am mostly worried this will happen again during the LSAT. I am trying to train myself now to become accustomed to the new testing environment before the date arrives in July.”
For Nicholas Gerber, a senior biology major, his plan throughout college has been to take his MCAT the summer before he began his last year. Due to COVID-19, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced that their testing format would not only postpone late spring test dates, but it would alter the make-up of the exam for tests taken between May 29 and September 28. Gerber will now take his test in late June.
The new format shortens the test, as there will be three rounds of testing administered per testing center each day. Previously an eight-hour exam, the MCAT will now take students five hours and 45 minutes, administered in the morning, at noon and in late afternoon. This is to accommodate the number of students needing to take the exam, while still abiding by social distancing procedures. In addition, the typical lunch break has been removed and replaced with three 10-minute breaks, according to Gerber.
“One thing I’m going to start doing to adjust to the new exam is how I do practice tests,” Gerber said. “I’m going to start taking it at 12:15 so I can get used to the time I’ve been assigned. This also will help me see if I’m waking up at a good time, so I can make sure I’m as active and alert as I need to be. I know a lot of people who planned on taking it in May and fully completed their studying. Now, they’re having to maintain that level of study for a later test date.”
For students already in medical school, their normal study conditions were interrupted by COVID-19, as well. Jackson Mosley, a second-year student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), said the shift from on-campus classes to studying at home was stressful.
When UAMS sent home their medical students the week of March 9, Mosley’s class was scheduled for two exams, one of which was fully credited to students due to the coronavirus preventing them from taking it in-person. From that point on, Mosley’s second year of medical school shifted to lectures and weekly quizzes on Blackboard, a virtual learning environment, and USMLE Rx, a website that provides practice questions and prep material for the USMLE Step 1 exam.
“The USMLE Step 1 exam covers all of the material taught during the first two years of medical school,” Mosley said. “The score you get on this exam is widely considered the most important part of your application to residency programs. It is somewhat of an infamous and feared exam among medical students because of this.”
Mosley’s original test date was scheduled for May 19. However, due to COVID-19 and the extension of UAMS’ test deadline, he is now registered for a tentative June 30 date.
“In ways, I am thankful for more study time, but at this point, I am tired of having it drawn out,” Mosley said. “There is still a chance any of our test dates could get cancelled at any moment, and that uncertainty causes unnecessary stress.”
Third-year medical students typically enter into rotations in hospitals and clinics starting in June. UAMS has announced these will be postponed until August, taking time and experience away from Mosley and his class.
“It feels like we won’t be able to get the full effect of the third year of medical school,” Mosley said. “In the end though, I am thankful to even be in this position, and I am more than willing to comply with what it takes for us to get through this crisis.”