Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

In whatever comes our way

Yeah, darlin’

Gonna make it happen

Gonna drive my high school junior

To take the SAT

Wait!  Those aren’t the lyrics.  What happened to taking the world in a love embrace and being born to be wild?  Aren’t road trips supposed to be about adventure, self-discovery—even a little danger?

During the spring of 2021, as more than one million high school students found their SAT and ACT exams cancelled due to COVID-related test center closures, many parents and teenagers resorted to long road trips to take the test in a neighboring state.  Is that fair?  Even allowed?   And is there some advantage to testing out of state that students may want to consider, even post-pandemic?

The answer, like so much about college admissions these days, is complicated.

The College Board and the ACT Don’t Really Care Where You Take Their Exams…

The College Board and the ACT make students abide by many rules when it comes to testing, from detailing which calculators students are permitted to use on the math sections to glamour tips for students’ photo IDs.  However, neither organization has a policy concerning where a student can take its test.  In fact, taking the SAT or ACT out of state is common for students in boarding schools, students who live in communities that straddle state lines, and students participating in exchange programs.  Indeed, international students have to travel to a different country to take the SAT or ACT.  As far as the College Board is concerned, you can take the SAT in the South Sandwich Islands if you want to, although they will charge you an additional $43 registration fee.

…But State and Local Health Officials Might Care About Your Travel Plans

Due to ever-changing travel regulations surrounding COVID, some travel between states is still restricted or discouraged.  For example, Hawaii has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors, which means taking the test in Maui will require two weeks of sitting on a balcony, watching the ocean waves as a cool breeze blows in your hair.

The SAT and ACT’s registration deadlines add another layer of complication.  Typically, the registration deadline for each SAT and ACT is about a month before the exam date, with the late registration deadline about two and a half weeks before each exam and the deadline for changes about one and a half weeks before.  Again, since travel restrictions can change quickly, navigating these deadlines might add an unwanted layer of complexity.

Generally Speaking, Simpler Is Better for Test Day

In addition to strategies for cracking the toughest questions, we also teach strategies for making test day as stress-free as possible.  A good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and a distraction-free environment are all key for students to head into the test feeling calm and confident.  While it’s possible to be in the right emotional state far from home, it tends to be a lot more difficult.  Whether it’s the stress of rushing to find the testing site in an unfamiliar town or the exhaustion that comes from tossing and turning all night because the guest in the room next to yours at the La Quinta Inn wouldn’t stop snoring, for many students taking the test far from home makes it much harder to concentrate.  The goal is to expend the least amount of mental energy right before the test so that your tank is full when you pick up your No. 2 pencil.

That said, some students benefit from being away from their familiar environment.  Students who have trouble focusing when their friends are around, for example, may fare far better taking the SAT or ACT at a school where they don’t know anyone, which in many cases simply requires a mere 15-minute drive.

In the End, It’s Up to You

As with so many decisions families are faced with these days, there are no easy answers regarding where to take the SAT or ACT.  Each student must decide what environment will make them feel most comfortable on the morning of the test—a convenient site where friends and classmates are also testing, a site not too far from home but less likely to breed distraction, or a site far from home, perhaps even in a neighboring state.  And if that leads you to take the SAT in the South Sandwich Islands, say hello to the penguins for us.