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Social Distancing Restrictions Lead to New PSAT Approach

Berkeley High School (BHS) will be offering the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) to BHS juniors on Tuesday, January 26, for the first time since schools closed due to COVID-19 in March of 2020. However, the current conditions have created many setbacks and adjustments to the way the test will be administered. Already, the amount of tests offered has been decreased to just seventy students. 

“It’s better to be able to have some kids be able to do it then no kids be able to do it,” said BHS interim Vice Principal and teacher Leah Katz, who is organizing the test. 

According to Katz, BHS will take many measures to ensure the safety of students while taking the test. The check-in process will only allow 15 students in at a time, and starting times will be staggered so that nobody has to wait to start their test. 

Additionally, the entrances and exits will be designed to limit possible exposure in the hallways, as well as bathrooms. All rooms where the test is being held will have air filters, as well as windows to ensure ventilation. Large spaces the test is given in, including all three gyms and the College and Career Center, will only have fifteen students, and the one classroom being used will only have ten.

The organizing of the PSAT this year has required more staff, volunteers, and effort from BHS than it has in the past. The Berkeley City Public Health Department gave BHS the guidelines for what they could do, and Principal Juan Raygoza then helped to decide where and how the test would be administered. 

The amount of students taking the PSAT this year is especially low considering the October PSAT that is usually offered had to be cancelled due to social distancing restrictions. With the limited number of spaces for this year’s PSAT, many students will be disadvantaged when taking the SAT later on; they won’t have that practice under their belt. 42 juniors who applied were rejected, and this year’s sophomores don’t have the option of taking the test. 

“I think [BHS] needs to be prepared for a lot of students to want to take it,” said Maggie Fern, a junior in Academic Choice (AC) who registered for the PSAT.

Despite efforts from the administration team, the registration process for the test did not run completely smoothly. As announced in an email sent out to BHS juniors, any junior could apply for the PSAT, first-come first-serve, with registration opening Wednesday, January 6, at 7:00 AM and closing on Friday, January 8. 

But when students who had already registered for any previous PSAT attempted to register, they were not allowed, due to the workings of the website. “It was just something unpredictable that we could never have known was going to happen,” said Katz. She then sent out another email announcing that there would instead be a lottery on January 11 for any junior who had applied. 

“It’s awful,” Katz admitted, “We’re just adding to all this uncertainty that people are already facing.”

According to Fern, the change of registration was a challenge. She had made sure to apply exactly at 7:00 AM to secure a spot for the PSAT, just to learn that she would now have a much lower chance of getting in due to the faulty website. 

“It was just frustrating because I was really ready to get a spot, and I was trying really hard to get a spot because I really wanted to take the PSAT,” Fern said. “The district can do better, and I feel like that they should be doing better, trying to get more students in.”

Katz was emphatic that despite the changes in this year’s PSATs and testing in general, students should remain calm. She said she believes the world will change to accommodate the specific challenges students currently face due to the pandemic. 

“We know how much you’ve lost, we know how much you’re worried about, we know all the additional stressors, and colleges are going to know all those things, too,” Katz said. 

So what does this mean for future tests this year, like the SAT, as well as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests? Katz said they will see how the PSAT goes on campus, and then adjust from there. 

“I think we’ll learn a lot, but we’ll still have different questions for different tests, because the constraints are different,” Katz said. 

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