Hundreds of school pupils in the UAE may have to sit the vital exams that determine their admission to US universities online this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Each year, about three million pupils worldwide take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), a mandatory exam for entry into a US university. Scheduled for March, May and June, this year’s exams, which are typically written, were cancelled as part of Covid-19 pandemic precautions.
The College Board in the US, which conducts the internationally recognised exam, said the SAT may be held online this year if schools do not reopen by autumn.
But teachers in the UAE said this would need children to learn new techniques, and pupils were concerned that they may underperform and jeopardise their college applications.
Peter Davos, founder of Hale Education Group consultancy in Dubai, said pupils who wished to attend top universities would have to study through the summer if the SAT is held in August. About 300 Hale clients plan to take the SAT this year.
“Many colleges and universities will make the tests optional, but top universities would still require SAT scores,” Mr Davos said.
“Students who have been complacent may think that appearing for SAT is an option and they do not need to worry about taking these.
“Pupils who are preparing diligently will have multiple opportunities,” he said.
Mr Davos said a proctor, or examination officer, may have to be assigned to monitor pupils online and ensure they do not cheat. Some universities in the UAE have asked students to turn on webcams during exams to stop cheating, but some have argued this is an invasion of privacy.
“The resources are not available yet but we will help pupils prepare for the online tests,” he said.
Not all universities in the US require SATs for admission. Tufts University, Boston University and Northeastern University made SAT scores optional for pupils before the pandemic.
But top institutes, including Harvard University and Yale University, require SAT scores for entry.
Katharine Vavpetic, chief executive of Gems United School Dubai, said moving the tests online would be likely to mean more US colleges and universities would eliminate them.
“Pupils at Gems Education schools will be affected. This is a major shift in how pupils interact with and think about the SAT test,” she said.
“Eliminating the SAT as an admissions requirement would help pupils who have test anxiety. But, if SATs are to be given online, pupils will be able to control their own testing environment, reducing anxiety.”
She said online testing could have negative effects on pupils’ scores because of inequalities in access to testing environments at home and reliable internet access.
“Parents and pupils may be concerned about online privacy if, during an online SAT, cameras and microphones are recording the student and his/her environment. These are questions the College Board is going to have to resolve,” she said.
“If privacy concerns, test integrity concerns, and equity concerns are addressed, then online SATs may work well, but I think it’s too early to tell.”
Vishal Kavitha, a Year 11 pupil at Jumeirah College, was planning to take the SAT in August before going to university in 2022.
“This is part of the admission preparation for US universities, and I am hoping to study aeronautical engineering at Stanford University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” said Vishal, 16.
“I would definitely not be happy to sit the exams online as it’s a complete game changer.
“It’s a race against time, and I have learnt techniques for the tests done on paper. This is completely new so I would have to learn techniques for the online version.
“More people will skip the exam and people who sit for it this year might have a higher chance of underperforming. It’s a new platform so there may be increased room for error.
“I would do better if it’s on paper so I will wait.”
Rami Hamzeh, a Year 11 Canadian pupil at Raffles International School, agreed that switching to an online test would pose challenges.
“I may have to take it multiple times so taking it online initially does not matter much to me. But, if they cancel SATs later that may affect my higher education plans,” said Rami, 15.
“It will need more effort, especially in the reading section. I would rather take the exam on paper,” he said.
Rami plans to pursue bachelors studies in pre-law in the United States or Canada.
“Based on the practice tests, my results are consistent regardless of whether I do it in paper or online so I can make the switch,” he said.