Fall standardized testing update: a conversation with Bright Horizons College Coach

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Megan Stubbendeck, Managing Director of Operations here at ArborBridge, recently joined Sally Ganga of Bright Horizons College Coach for a segment of "Getting In: A College Coach Conversation.” Sally and Megan discussed the recent ACT registration problems, what to expect on test day, and more.

Listen to Sally and Megan's full conversation here or read on for a sample of their discussion.

SALLY GANGA So I thought we could kick off with a listener question that I think really exemplifies the challenging circumstances that students are in right now when they’re trying to test.

This listener said, “Would it be possible for you to cover the issues with ACT registration? They seem to be having exceptional technology and staffing issues on top of dealing with COVID. I know that this is problematic for many people, but I honestly feel as if they’ve started gaslighting students. It’s clear from Reddit threads that we are not alone in being told we’ll get emails and registration help, only to have tests cancelled without any notification. We were supposed to get an email last week with instructions to register, which we did not. Instead, we got an email just this morning telling us that they couldn’t register us and that we’d have to try to get a slot today at 10:00 with everyone else. This has been a disaster. I’d really like to understand what the heck is happening there that is causing them to treat so many of these students so poorly. We’ve been cancelled three times. I have no confidence that I’ll be able to register today (August 3rd). You’ve been an amazing resource, and I just really need some light on how they are correcting the situation.”

Megan, I can’t help with that, so I was hoping that maybe you could give some insight.

MEGAN STUBBENDECK I can definitely give some insight, and I wish I could help this student move through this process as easily as possible. But even I can’t do that, mostly because there are some issues happening at ACT.

So, we’ll sort of back up and talk about the couple of different things this student has experienced. This student has really experienced the perfect storm of things that could go wrong in this process. And they’re not alone. It’s happening not just in the United States; it’s happening internationally to students as well. Juniors, seniors, it’s really across the board. So there are a couple of things that happened at ACT.

The first was, of course, what we all know: spring was cancelled. There weren’t spring exams to be had. So it created a bottleneck of demand where lots of students were trying to get the same two or three test dates this summer and fall.

The second thing that happened is in June, they began to weed out the number of students who were going to be allowed to test. And the reason for that was social distancing. ACT had to begin following guidelines—and they should—to keep students safe. And that meant decreasing the number of students who were allowed into the test centers that were scheduled a whole year in advance when no one knew this was going to happen. And so for a number of students, particularly younger students, ACT looked at the rosters of schools and said, “Okay, we have to cut this school, perhaps when we look at the maps and know how far we have to move students around, by 50% or by 75%.” And the first students they cut were younger students who weren’t graduating this year in 2020 and began to take away their seats from those test sites. So that was the second thing that was going on probably for this student.

And the third was registration for the next year. Registration for ACT opens on one day for the whole world for the entire next school year. It’s not some sort of rolling thing where every month they open another test date a year away. It’s one big day. So they opened it all and got all this pent-up demand from the spring and the summer.

The second thing that they tried to do at the same time—which you can debate whether this was a good idea or not—was unveil a new registration portal, a whole new tech infrastructure, at the same time. So, you’ve got new tech infrastructure, you’ve got all this demand, you’ve got all of these questions, and that all hit at the same moment. And that’s why what we saw when registration opened was that the system couldn’t handle it. There was just too much. ACT came out and said, when they went back through all of their studies of the highest peak days in ACT history when they’ve opened registration, this was four times the amount of demand on that first couple of hours of opening that they’ve ever seen in their history. Which is a lot, especially when they’ve got a new system running. So that’s what crashed the system. They had to take everything offline for a week and constantly kept saying, “We’re going to be back tomorrow. Wait, actually, we’re going to take that back, it’s going to be Monday.” And they had to move the deadline.

So for this student, by now, it’s been about two weeks since they opened, and things have quieted down, but that first week was really tumultuous. And so if you did have trouble then and you still need a test for some reason, and if you’re safe to test and you want to try to register, now I recommend going on. There’s a lot less activity, and you might have a greater chance of getting the test that you need or want.

Listen to Megan and Sally’s full conversation here to learn more about 

  • How the College Board handled registration
  • What to expect on test day for the SAT & ACT
  • Tips in light of the recent testing cancellations
  • What we know so far about this year’s PSAT


Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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