COVID-19: A New Normal

Campus Visits

We’ve heard a lot of talk about “a new normal” post-contagion. Now that schools and universities have addressed student, faculty, and staff safety, they are refocusing attention on day-to-day operations. Many of my former university colleagues are safely working from home. At the same time, they are juggling responsibilities of home life. I’m amazed – and grateful – for their continued support of our work. A new normal is indeed emerging as you’ll see below.


School closures due to COVID-19 will inevitable result in delays around the submission of grades. From what we can see, universities around the world are being very flexible in the way they process applications. In general, high schools and education systems everywhere are promising that every student eligible to graduate will graduate.

Canadian and American universities continue to process applications. The message we are receiving from institutions is that applications will not be affected by disruptions that are outside students’ control. In fact, students continue to update me on responses they’re receiving, so we know admission offices are still at work. In the United Kingdom, Universities UK confirmed post-secondary institutions will be flexible and do all they can to support students to progress to higher education. Based on what I am hearing from colleagues at Canadian and American universities, they will follow the lead of British universities as to how final grades are considered.

To provide context, here’s a list showing how contagion is affecting students across Europe.


While proper course selection is the most important factor for juniors applying to Canadian and British universities, applicants to American universities are concerned about their testing plans. You’ll be happy to know universities are ensuring prospective students are not negatively impacted by limited test dates. For example, Harvard University will not penalize applicants if their high school’s move to a pass-fail grading system, and juniors will not face penalties if they are unable to submit AP test scores or SAT Subject Tests. Tufts University , Boston University, and at least one of the Claremont Colleges, Tufts University , Scripps, introduced test-optional policies for admission, and MIT dropped its SAT Subject Test requirement. Under normal circumstances it’s unlikely these changes would have occurred.


Most universities have now resumed classes online or in alternative format. In addition, many institutions introduced modified grading practices, including a credit/no credit option which means number grades will not be assigned. We’ve been advising students to closely review their university’s revised grading policy as in some cases students are able to see a number grade before choosing the credit/no credit option.


English Proficiency Tests

As noted in an earlier message, TOEFL and IELTS tests were cancelled around the world. In response, ETS launched TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition which may be taken on a computer at home and is monitored by a human proctor online. We’ve noticed a number of universities announcing they plan to accept Duolingo English Test as it may also be completed online. British Council has not yet announced a remote version of its test.

Graduate and professional standardized tests

With the cancellation of March and April administration of MCAT, flexible rescheduling has been extended for exams taking place through the end of May. GMAT launched an interim online proctored exam; it will be offered beginning in mid-April. An at-home version of the GRE is also now available.

AP, ACT, and SAT

The College Board announced one of the biggest surprises: AP examinations will be given online. While the exams are still being developed, we know they will be 45-minutes long and free response, and that the content will focus on what most schools were able to complete by early March. Free AP review classes will be available starting March 25.

May sittings of the SAT are cancelled but a decision has not yet been made on administrations of the June SAT and SAT Subject tests. We do know ACT, Inc. rescheduled April exam sittings to June. If these exams are not held in June, expect online versions to be available later in the year.

International Baccalaureate

In another unexpected announcement, IBO cancelled the May 2020 Examination session. Students will be awarded a Diploma or Course Certificate “… which reflects their standard of work” based on the student’s coursework. Further details and FAQs will be available from schools by March 27. IB Exams play a role in determining eligibility equivalency credit. Currently, it’s unclear how universities and IBO will address this question.

British-patterned education: A Level Examinations

Cambridge Assessment International Education updated their position by announcing that international examinations in the May/June 2020 series will not be held in any country. Students will “receive a grade and a certificate from Cambridge International, given the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their programmes of study.” Pearson Edexcel also announced the cancellation of General Qualification exams in May/June globally. Students internationally will receive a result and a grade “using the same principles as for the UK GCSE and A level qualifications.”


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