The 2020-2021 school year will forever be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as we approach the summer with newfound feelings of optimism and hope, the memories of an entire year of remote learning are going to stay with us for quite some time. Having said that, we at A-List believe that everything in life is a learning experience, no matter how challenging or daunting.

Thus, we should take a moment to reflect on some of the biggest lessons we’ve taken away from prepping for the SAT/ACT in the middle of a pandemic.

1. College admissions continue — no matter what.

When news of the pandemic first hit us, we wondered how the situation would affect college admissions. Like so many institutions and industries, colleges quickly adapted and pushed ahead, requiring high school students to stay on top of their applications. Most significantly, several colleges and universities adopted “test-optional” admissions policies in response to test site closures (see No. 2), keeping the door open for any juniors or seniors whose SATs and ACTs were canceled. The message to families across the country was clear: schools are still in session.

2. “Test-optional” admissions create big opportunities.

The announcement that most colleges and universities were adopting “test-optional” admissions policies brought waves of relief to millions of students and parents nationwide. However, this shift in college admissions did not negate the importance of taking the SAT/ACT. On the contrary, test-optional admissions are shining a spotlight on rising seniors who manage to bring in outstanding test scores; this advantageous state of affairs will come in handy for anyone applying to Ivy League schools. Admissions officers have always used the SAT/ACT scores as quick identifiers of exceptional academic performance, and frankly, choosing to take an optional standardized test in the middle of a pandemic demonstrates a willingness to work hard and strive for greatness — exactly what colleges are looking for!

A classroom full of students

3. Online remote learning has its own pros and cons.

Just as colleges had to rapidly adapt to the onset of COVID-19, so too did all our ACT and SAT test prep classes. After a year of getting comfortable with conducting virtual SAT classes on Zoom or Google Meet, it’s clear that online remote learning has several advantages and disadvantages. Many of our past students appreciated the easy access to classroom materials such as textbooks and quizzes, not to mention the convenience of being able to show up for a Saturday morning class in their pajamas. On the other hand, virtual classrooms lack the human touch of the in-person school experience, resulting in students feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Though online learning will remain a viable option for many families and institutions, returning to in-person classrooms in the fall is going to be a cause for celebration in many households and schools.

4. No test is as important as your mental health.

Make no mistake, 2020-2021 was a rough school year for parents, students, and educators worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered the learning landscape and presented us with obstacles that we never could have foreseen in our lifetimes. While preparing for the SAT/ACT remains a crucial juncture on any high school student’s college admissions journey, let’s never lose sight of how seriously our youth was impacted by an entire school year taught under quarantine. If you had to take the SAT or the ACT off your plate this year, that’s okay! If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by your academics, please remember to take a deep breath, disconnect from your studies and screens, and focus on your mental wellbeing. You are more important than your SAT scores.

Congratulations to everyone graduating at the end of such a turbulent school year! To anyone gearing up for their college admissions journey, click here to learn more about how we can help you get ready.