Students Prepare for SATs


In January of 2021, the College Board announced that it was dropping both the essay and subject-area exams from the SAT. Subject-area exams were exams regarding things like French. These changes were already planned, but the pandemic sped up the process. While many students are thankful for these changes, questions about the SAT remain.

Many wonder whether or not it is worth taking the SAT. Many schools are continuing to be test-optional for admissions in 2021. Many West Potomac students, however, are still going to take it. “A lot of the colleges that I’ve been looking at have gone test-optional for fall 2021, which makes me wonder if taking the test is worthwhile. Regardless, I still feel like I should take it because it’s what I’ve been recommended to do by most people, and I’ve been working under the assumption that I would eventually have to take it my entire high school career, so it feels like a bit of a waste of effort to just not take it,” Junior Elizabeth Hardin said. “Even if many colleges go test-optional again this year, I still feel like the SAT is a good meter for my college readiness. If I do well on the SAT, I think I’ll have more confidence going into applications,” Junior Cara Omohundro said.

Sadly, those Juniors who want to take the SAT this spring and not wait for the SAT day in the fall will not be able to take the test at West Potomac. The spring SAT’s are scheduled based on which schools have test coordinators, a role hired by the College Board. West Potomac does not currently have one for the building, meaning that West Potomac can not hold Saturday testing due to the lack of someone in this position. In order to have one, they would need to apply and be hired by the College Board. This is why Mt. Vernon hosts Saturday SAT’s and West Potomac does not. “If somebody expressed interest for it, you know, obviously we could connect them with College Board, but it is not a Fairfax County Schools position,” Mr. McMahon, the Director of Student Services at West Potomac, said. He agrees that testing at West Potomac would be much easier for the student body, especially due to the head count limit for the SAT’s.  “The reality is West Potomac is the closest building to our students because it’s in our community, right, so I think, of course there are benefits to that,” he said. As such he would welcome the filling of this position so that we can have Saturday SAT’s. “We would be open to, you know, we couldn’t employ them, we would connect them with College Board and hope that if it worked out and then we could look to see what new testing options would be available in our building.”

Students would also be open to this, as they think it would be easier to take the test at West Potomac. When asked what she thought about the lack of testing at West Potomac, Cara Omohundro said, “It’s definitely inconvenient! Some of the closest alternative locations are a bit of a haul, so that’s discouraging and I think it will probably keep some West Po students from taking the test. I personally don’t mind much, and it’s not an obstacle for me, but I do worry about other students who may not be able to go to testing locations after the most convenient ones run out of room.” Thankfully, while many schools have had to lower their accepted head-count, the number of students that they can have in the school to take the test, Mt. Vernon’s has remained the same.

The process for registering for the SAT is still pretty straight-forward. The registration process occurs through a student’s College Board account and should take them between 30 and 40 minutes. Because the essay is still optional this year, it is a good idea to check ahead of time whether the colleges they’re applying to require the essay. Then, the students will need to update their personal information and create a student profile on College Board, it’s just a way to give colleges a background to go along with the scores. Then, the student selects the test and testing center that they wish to take, so what day they want to take the test on and where they want to take it, then, they must attach a valid photo of themselves, one with no one else in the picture and with nothing obstructing their face, like sunglasses. This will be attached to the testing ticket sent to the school, that will be used to identify the student when they show up at the school for testing. Finally, the student must pay the fee for registering with a credit card or PayPal. Students on free or reduced lunch may be able to get a fee waiver, but everyone else has to pay. There are three spring testing dates that students can register for. Mt. Vernon is hosting tests on all three days, but not all testing locations are, this is something to check when registering. There are registration deadlines. The one for the March 13th test was February 12th. The deadline to register for the May 8th test is April 8th and the deadline for the June 5th test is May 6th.

Fairfax County is trying to make these tests as safe as possible considering the pandemic. Mt. Vernon has safety protocols in place for the SAT based on Fairfax County School Safety Protocols.  Masks are required at all times, social distancing will be practiced, there will be hand-sanitizer available at the front entrance of Mt. Vernon and in each testing room, and testers will only be able to enter the building from the main entrance. Before entering the building, the students will get into three lines and have their temperatures taken and respond to five statements: have they come in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid in the last 14 days, do they have any reason to believe that they may have Covid, are they showing symptoms, are they violating any travel restrictions or quarantine guidelines, do they agree to wear a mask the entire time that they’re at the testing location and do they agree to follow the instructions of the testing staff, and do they accept the risk that despite the bests efforts of the school, they’re still at risk for getting Covid. After this, the students will be allowed to enter the main lobby where they will be stopped at a table with room rosters, and the SAT staff will escort them to their assigned room.

In the testing rooms, the testers will have to give two things to the proctors: their printed Testing Ticket and a valid I.D.. The I.D. has to be government issued, or school-issued, and bear their full legal name as it appears on the admission ticket with a recognizable photo. Paper bags will be provided for students to put their electronic devices in, so the staff don’t have to handle them when they’re placed at the front of the room or on a desk. Once testers in a particular room have finished, the room proctor will dismiss them one at a time to help maintain social distancing, and then the testers must move quickly to exit the building. This is a very long process, but these are based on requirements and guidelines created by both College Board and Fairfax County Public Schools. “We have to follow those guidelines when administering the SAT and the ACT,” Ms. Prater, a counselor at Mt. Vernon High School said. These guidelines, while arduous and seemingly time-consuming, are critical in allowing the spring SATs and ACTs to occur. It is important that these tests go on so that students can prepare for their next step in life.