Pre-Testing During the Pandemic

How the PSAT and PACT have Operated Amidst the Pandemic


For one of the first times since March, juniors have headed back to campus with masks on, spaced at least six feet apart, and focused on the PSAT. All the while, sophomores proceeded to take the PACT virtually, in a remote graderoom-like setting. 

Learning Resource Department Chair Bridget Walsh explained that Parker kids “benefit” from taking the PSAT and PACT because it helps “to get some comfortability with standardized testing.”

“It’s not something that Parker typically values in terms of a good read of a kid’s abilities,” Walsh said, “however, it is a reality in the Chicagoland area and nationwide that standardized tests are important for determining things for kid’s futures.”

The PSAT is an optional standardized test taken in junior year for Parker students. It prepares students for the upcoming SAT, and a high score can even lead to scholarships and National Merit recognition. The College Board requires schools to have their students take the test on a set date. This year, the PSAT was taken on October 14 and in-person. Approximately 40 members of the junior class registered to take the exam. The given work time to complete the PSAT is just under 3.5 hours, including breaks. In previous years, the College Board gave high schools a set time where students were required to start and finish. This year, start times are described as being more “flexible,” due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the reasons for this change is because Parker needs to be more cautious of when students would primarily enter the building. While PSAT testing was in session, students from other grades were attending classes and also entering the building. This caused the need to be even more cautious. 

“Part of the change is that this is not an out of school day for JK-7,” Middle and Upper School Director of Studies Sven Carlsson said, “For the other divisions, they’re in the building, and the building has been re-framed to allow for safe social distancing and travel and everything. So, it’s not like you can just roam around the building like we used to be able to.”

The protocol for taking the PSAT in person began with the total number of students that participated being split into two groups. These two groups entered Parker campus and took the exam at different times. The first group did the exam in the morning hours, and the second in the afternoon.

“I wouldn’t recommend that anyone necessarily prep for this test. No one should have been doing workbooks and having a private tutor for the PSAT,” Walsh said. “But, it is a good snapshot of where you’re at compared to other students at other schools all across the country, and how you compare to them in terms of your college readiness.”

The PACT is a practice test that sophomores take in order to prepare themselves for the ACT. This assessment generally helps students and families “identify areas of academic strength and opportunity” according to the PACT website.

The way that the PACT has run its course this year was entirely different than previous years. Unlike the PSAT, the PACT was taken and supervised virtually. Both of the exams were held on the same day, October 14 at 8:00 a.m..

A large envelope was sent to families of the sophomore class from the Upper School office that contained the physical PACT exam. Students were advised to not open the envelope until the time to commence the testing began.

The PACT was remotely proctored and students were obliged to join a Zoom link for registration and time management instruction, and of course to take the exam. Subsequent to completing the assessment in a quiet space where students could easily focus, sophomores were then expected to promptly mail the test to the Upper School office so that grading could be completed before Wednesday, October 28.

The PACT is only a practice test while the PSAT can be tied to scholarship opportunities and awards that can benefit students in the future. There is always the possibility of students finding ways to cheat on the PACT, due to it being remote. Since the PACT is only a practice test, if a student had found a way to cheat, it wouldn’t do anything to help them in the future.

“If a kid wants to cheat on the PACT, it really only hurts themselves. It doesn’t help them at all,” Walsh said. “We could not send home the PSAT because if you cheated, you could be awarded a scholarship. You could have this distinction that wouldn’t have been truthful.”

Parker still wanted to give sophomores the chance to take a standardized test, but allowing them to take it on campus was not a priority.

Another difference between the PSAT and PACT is that the PSAT offers extended time for students who need those accommodations, while the PACT does not. In terms of the PACT, there were students at Parker who had previously received extended time and who then did not receive it for standardized testing.

“Us just giving you extended time because you qualify at Parker does not necessarily indicate that you will qualify for extended time on the ACT next year,” Walsh said. “So, it’s kind of a false sense of security thinking like, ‘oh I get extended time at Parker, so I’ll get it for the ACT.’”

As the PACT is only a practice test, if a student who had previously received extended time did not perform well on the exam without it, the administration would know this before launching them into the actual ACT without accommodations.

Sophomore grade head Andrew Bigelow encourages sophomores and juniors to see testing as “an opportunity, not an inconvenience.”

“See this as an opportunity to evaluate where you are, and then take whatever steps necessary to improve upon where you feel your weaknesses are or where you feel you need to enhance your skills,” Bigelow said.