A Student’s Guide to SATs During Global Emergencies

There isn’t any area of daily living that is unaffected by the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak of 2019 (infamously known as COVID-19). The pandemic has altered the way we do things — including the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) exams.

When do you take the SAT during a global crisis like COVID-19? Can you still take them?

The public health scare prompted the cancellation of SAT testing dates (May 2 and June 6, 2020). Additional dates were set but postponed due to the growing threat of the pandemic. As a result, many colleges are eliminating the SAT as a requirement for 2021 school admissions.

But as the world learns to live with COVID-19, many students find themselves still preparing for the SAT as a crucial component of their college readiness. So how can students study and prepare well for the SATs during global emergencies like COVID-19?

When Do You Take the SAT in High School? And Other SAT Basics

Before you dive into SAT preparation, it’s important to know the basics (and how the pandemic made a few changes).


When do you take the SAT in high school?

The SAT has seven schedules each year: March, May June, August, October, November and December. Students have the option to take their SAT at any time during their freshman year, but most students prefer to take it during the spring of their junior year.

The pandemic, however, has caused schools to make changes with their schedules. Despite the scheduling changes, the SAT college board pushed through with weekend SAT administrations. The new 2020 SAT administration held exams on September 26, October 3, November 7 and December 5 (international Subject Tests and domestic SAT).

How many times can you take the SAT?

Students can still take the SAT as many times as they want, depending on the available schedules of the school. You can take the exams at least twice — in the spring of your junior year and the fall of your senior year.

How long does the SAT take?

The exam might seem like it lasts forever but it only lasts for three hours. Each exam includes a 5-minute and a 10-minute break. Some SAT exams come with an optional essay, which adds 50 minutes.

What are the other changes I can expect?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, another change to testing is safety screening. On the day of your test, a testing staff will administer a short survey before allowing you to the testing center. Any student that shows symptoms of sickness will be denied entry.


Before your test, check your center’s website for any specific or additional entry requirements if they have.

Learning the SAT basics and the impact of a global crisis on your exams can help you customize your learning, which helps prepare for your SATs during these trying times.

How to Prepare for the SATs during Global Emergencies

Nothing is certain when it comes to natural disasters or public health emergencies, which is why test-takers should expect change. For example, for students who claim they need more time for test prep before the COVID-19 pandemic, the suspension of classes offers more time to catch up.

If your exam date was canceled, don’t stop reviewing. Studying at home, however, poses many distractions, such as pets, the TV, gadgets and even family members. Reduce distractions by finding a private area to study and letting your family know that you wish to study in peace.

Here are other ways to prepare for your SATs:

Register for a new SAT date immediately.

To ensure you maintain an end goal for your studies, register for another exam date ASAP. Deadlines are crucial for goal-setting because they motivate you to do well. Without a deadline, you might feel relaxed or complacent, which causes delays or wasting of time. Knowing a deadline, on the other hand, adds productive pressure to your routine.

If you’re planning to sign up for summer SAT date (which may still be affected by COVID-19), waiting a little longer is OK. Be sure to commit to a test date as soon as you can.

Join a virtual study group.

Distance learning is the safest way to continue your studies. Thanks to the Internet, however, you can still study with your friends online. Forming a virtual study group with your friends via your school’s online platforms or video conferencing platforms like Zoom ensure you stay accountable with your friends.


Serious study groups foster an atmosphere of accountability while providing you with a stable support network. If you are motivated by competition, joining an online study group keeps you competitive. Just enjoy the friendly competition and help friends out when needed.

Reward your test prep milestones.

Everyone has different motivations. Some students are externally motivated, which means they are encouraged by physical rewards such as money or other items. Others are intrinsically motivated, meaning they’re after non-tangible rewards like better self-confidence. 

No matter what type of learner you are, don’t forget to reward yourself when you reach your goals. For example, if you are an externally motivated lawyer, treat yourself to a nice dinner or buy some clothes.

Make Your Free Time Worth Your While

As mentioned, you have plenty of free time due to the suspension of in-school classes. Instead of relaxing, use your time for the following:

Read nonfiction.

The SAT is heavy on reading. The questions are straightforward but the reading part can exhaust your mental energy. 

To prevent reading exhaustion, do some nonfiction reading when preparing for your exam. Most exams are composed of four or more passages that are nonfiction. Counterbalance your fiction reading list by picking up a newspaper (The New York Times keeps you up-to-date with current events while honing your reading skills) or a magazine (Time or The New Yorker will do).


Developing a habit of reading takes time. So hit the books as early as you can. Think of it this way: apart from being part of your college readiness program, reading is a new skill you learn during the pandemic.

Brush up on your grammar.

Almost half of the SAT’s verbal section is composed of grammar questions. While a majority of this section is composed of “big picture” essay questions, other questions rely on basic grammar knowledge.

Remember the essential grammar rules for SAT writing:

  1. Collective nouns are singular
  2. The subject and verb should agree in number
  3. Pronouns must be clear in number and reference
  4. Prepositional phrases don’t make a subject plural or singular
  5. Each word should make sense in the context
  6. Commas should separate subordinate and main clauses
  7. Sentence and verb structure must remain parallel

Practice mental math.

One of the two math sections on the SAT does not allow the use of a calculator. To prevent getting stuck with equations, start practicing mental math. Read math books, solve word problems (without the calculator) and use math apps to hone your mental math skills.

Try mixed practice tests.

There are three different parts to the SAT: reading, math, and language and writing. Some students prefer to focus on one aspect of practice sessions. But if you want to expand your knowledge, do mixed practice tests. For example, spend 35 minutes of writing and language practice and allot another 35 minutes for math.

Determine your weaknesses.

Once you feel oriented to the test, determine areas for improvement and set a baseline. One of the best ways to do this is to take a complete and timed practice test. Try the free practice tests from the College Board.


Seek guidance from your teachers.

School may be out but your teachers and counselors are still available online. If you’re struggling with the preps, reach out to a teacher. Your school is equipped with digital learning technologies, as well as ideas for prep options, designed to help students study better at home.

Avoid cramming.

Cramming might seem like a good idea since it feels like you are retaining everything you’ve studied. But within a week, you’ll lose much of the information you gathered.

Instead of risking your memory storage, prep for at least a few times a week and always review what you’ve learned. It’s easier to learn when you are continuously exposed to information you recently attempted to process.

Also, avoid doing more than three hours of prep. Don’t forget to take a break in between all the studying to allow your brain to process the information.

How to Stay Focused During a Global Crisis


With alarming stories constantly being published, it’s easy to feel anxious and distracted by all the information about the pandemic. While it’s smart to stay updated on government instructions and prevention methods, limiting your screen time could lessen your distractions.

There are different ways to stay focused. First, decide on a fixed number of sources you can watch or read every day. Next, limit your browsing time. For example, give yourself a thirty-minute time limit each day.

Anxiety is also a pressing problem for students. You’re not just worried about your exams; you’re also worried about the crisis. To reduce anxiety levels and sleepless nights, refrain from reading or watching COVID-19-related news.

Global emergencies like COVID-19 may have turned your daily routines upside down, but it doesn’t have to affect your productivity or plans for the future. These trying times can still be the perfect time to advance your SAT prep at home.

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