A Brief Commentary on High Stakes Testing in the age of Covid-19

As a clinical psychologist in the age of this pandemic, one thing I’ve realized is, the necessary “shutting down” of many aspects of our society has significantly interfered with everyone’s lives. We all have our unique complaints regarding the extreme hassles being caused by the ubiquitous “shelter in place orders.” Though none of us find these inconveniences enjoyable, some segments of the population are in crucial transitional periods that have been dramatically hindered because of forced stoppages. One such segment is undergraduates in the midst of “high stakes” test preparation for exams such as the LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, and GRE.

For these students, they have been preparing to apply for graduate school for years. They have engaged in grueling hours of study to prepare for their respective tests. Making matters worse, some are trying to squeeze in one last test administration to get a higher score, or need to take a test by a certain deadline so they can submit an application on time. Whatever the situation, the cancellation and postponing of test administrations has caused extreme concern and anxiety for many of these students. In some cases, the inability to take a certain test by a specific date may prevent a student from getting into their preferred school, or could prevent a student from submitting an application by a certain deadline. What can these students do to mitigate this anxiety?

  1. Understand that thousands upon thousands of students are in the same boat. You are not alone! Why does this matter? Because the testing companies like LSAC and ETS will be forced to be flexible in an effort to get students tested and test scores reported by certain deadlines.
  2. Understand that collegiate institutions will also be forced to be flexible concerning admission. They will coordinate with high stakes testing companies and try to accommodate students who are applying to their graduate programs.
  3. Do not let a sense of hopelessness interfere with your preparedness! Though you may have missed your test date, continue your study regimen. If an alternate test date has not yet been provided, at the very least, do light studying every day to keep your mind primed and ready. Once you know the new test date, you can ramp up your studying to get back into prime test-taking shape.
  4. Manage your anxiety and stress! Meditate; journal write; listen to relaxation and guided imagery apps and YouTube videos; exercise; and engage in hobbies. Use this forced “slow down” to get centered and learn how to calm your nerves. In some respects, you may be able to use this time to develop a more optimal mindset for exam day.
  5. Keep perspective! Tragically, this disease is taking many lives. It is truly a sad and devastating period in the history of modern society. Many of us are existentially terrified at the unknowns related to corona-virus. So, what to do? Take this time to reflect. Become introspective. Appreciate your current life situation. Enjoy connecting with family, friends, pets, or yourself. We all have different living situations, whether it’s alone or with a houseful of others, but we are all part of the larger community of humans. Appreciate the fact that you are bright, ambitious, and are in a position to be pursuing a graduate degree. Most importantly, stay safe, follow social distancing and medical guidelines, and weather this storm so you can pick up where you left off once the virus is slowed or neutralized.


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