“Are the kids allowed to use sound blocking ear plugs during the SAT?”
This question popped up recently in one of the many Facebook groups devoted to college admissions questions. The general understanding is that earplugs are absolutely forbidden on the tests, although my friend and colleague Pranoy Mohapatra shared the more pragmatic response: “Technically no… although it’s a rule many proctors are unaware of.”
While I certainly agree that many proctors tend to be unaware of many important rules during these high stakes tests, the issue of earplugs is less familiar, so I did a little research. Interestingly, neither the current SAT Test Day Checklist nor ACT Test Day Checklist explicitly prohibits earplugs. [EDIT: Apparently, section 4b of the SAT Terms and Conditions expressly prohibits them. Looks like you have to read the fine print!]
The initial question may raise another one, mainly, “Why should earplugs be prohibited in the first place?” Obviously, maintaining focus without being distracted by noise should improve concentration and performance on test day. However, any potential gains may be negated if a test taker can’t hear a five-minute warning. By the same token, no proctor can effectively manage a test where students cannot hear the signal that a section has ended.
Device or equipment bans usually have more to do with concerns about academic integrity than about proctor convenience. Any prohibition against earplugs surely stems from the same issues that make mechanical pencils unwelcome on test day; basically, at some point in testing history, certain bad actors found ways to use these items to cheat on the test.
Concerns about cheating guarantees that no sensible proctor will allow students to take their SAT or ACT while grooving to their high performance playlist through AirPods. Electronic earplugs or bulky headphones won’t pass muster. However, test takers may be able to get away with disposable earplugs. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, though. Better to train your focus through practice so that you’ll be both in tune and unperturbed by your surroundings on test day.