Free SAT offerings ensure seniors are given the opportunity to test during COVID-19


Photo by Jeremy Fredricks

A copy of the official SAT study guide for 2020. Seniors in Montgomery County, Md. can take the test for free in November and December.

By Jeremy Fredricks, Copy Editor and New Staff Liaison

When the Scholastic Assessment Test was canceled in the spring and summer due to COVID-19, many high school seniors were left with few options. Some had not even taken the test, while others were looking forward to another attempt to improve their scores.

As fall came and seniors were approaching the looming deadline of college applications, desperation set in. Some took tests in other states; others decided to not take them at all. But Montgomery County Public Schools did not want to leave seniors without an opportunity, so they decided to provide seniors with a free test.

“This is our third or fourth year of offering the SAT for free,” Scott Murphy, the Director of Montgomery County Public School’s Department of College and Career Readiness and Districtwide Programs, said. “This started back in 2017, where MCPS began offering a SAT for free. This was done really because of the barriers that are associated with taking the test on Saturdays.”

Some of those barriers include transportation, cost, students’ preparedness and availability of both the SAT and the student. To alleviate the stress, as well as obstacles for many students, the school system provides all juniors with a free test in the spring. However, when buildings were closed last year, the county was no longer able to provide this. 

“That group of juniors actually did not have the opportunity to take the SAT during the school day,” Murphy said. “It was really important to MCPS to ensure that there were opportunities for our current seniors.”

When the College Board, the company that produces and runs the tests, announced that it would have tests this fall at high schools in the county, the school system decided to help its seniors.

“Seniors who are not able to take the school-day SAT are able to access fee waivers, so that they can take the test for free, as would have happened during the school day,” Murphy said.

The county will pay for the cost of the SAT, which was $49.50 in the 2019-2020 cycle. They used the money budgeted for the in-person test last year to pay for students this year, which cost about $500,000 for all students in the county. Students who registered for the SATs in November and December also have the option of free transportation to and from their tests.

“I think that this is a great option as it will provide students with the opportunity to take the SAT who may not have been able to otherwise take it due to the pandemic and its surrounding issues,” Kimberly Trostle, a WCHS counselor, said. “I believe that the impact will be positive for WCHS as it will provide an opportunity for students to take the exam who may not have otherwise been able to access the test due to the pandemic.”

Trostle and others found that there are many benefits to giving students the option to take the SAT for free, including the educational opportunity that it provided to all students. The SAT is used at some colleges for admissions purposes, which means that if students do not take them, they lose out on an opportunity to go to college.

“I believe that the tremendous challenges and issues that have arisen due to the pandemic have necessitated the ability to allow seniors who have not taken the SAT to be allowed to do so,” Trostle said. “I believe that it provides some equity, especially for students who were scheduled to take the exam for the first time in the spring and were unable to do so.”

The SAT takes place at different high schools across the county, which the College Board determines. The College Board is taking steps to ensure that the locations are safe for all students and staff by using multiple entrances, requiring face coverings and limiting capacity.

“No more than 250 students per site within the school and no more than 10 students per classroom,” Murphy said. “Students did need to respond to health screening questions. These are also required by the College Board.”

Seniors that already took the SAT can access a fee waiver to take it for free in November or December. Juniors are not eligible to take the test for free at this time because the school system wants to ensure that all seniors get the opportunity to take the SAT.

“We are in a changing environment, as it relates to college admissions,” Murphy said. “We know that for our seniors, this wasn’t an opportunity last year so MCPS provided that opportunity. Seniors who are now going through their [last]year will maintain as much access to opportunities as possible.”