On January 19, 2021, the College Board announced that it will discontinue two items that have long been requirements for college-bound high school students: SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Writing Section. This will come as a huge relief to students who no longer need to prepare for these exams and essay section, but it may put added pressure on other parts of the application.
For years, test prep and admissions experts have anticipated the discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests. Even at the most competitive schools, there has been a loosening of requirements surrounding these exams. Add COVID-19, and the final nail in the coffin was placed. This past fall, schools like MIT and CalTech permanently changed their policies regarding Subject Tests to “test-blind”, thereby eliminating their consideration in admissions decisions. Others, like Yale and Amherst, adopted test-blind policies for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
Over the past decade, many colleges and universities dropped the Subject Test requirement down to a “recommendation” or an invitation to submit information that may differentiate a student from classmates. Of course, for students in highly competitive preparatory and boarding schools, “recommended” never actually meant recommended, just as “test-optional” for the SAT/ACT doesn’t really mean test-optional.
All of this back-and-forth had served to sow even more confusion in the college admissions process. Now there will no longer be an option to register for the Subject Tests, so there will be no ambiguity at all. We applaud the College Board’s decision (rare for us) in taking this definitive action, and we believe the net result will be less stress for our students.
The College Board will focus its energy on their most important and relevant tests: the SAT and the suite of AP examinations, the latter being a far better measure of individual subject matter mastery than the Subject Tests ever were.
The SAT will also cancel the optional essay section, much to the relief of many high school juniors. The essay first appeared on the 2005 redesign of the exam. It underwent a major change in 2016 in an effort to become a better measure of a student’s writing and ability to analyze claims versus evidence. But the SAT essay never really took off, and colleges that required students to sit for the optional essay did not weigh the score much at all in their admissions decisions, arguing that it was a poor measure of a student’s readiness for college.
The College Board will continue to offer the essay through this academic year, and then it will be discontinued on a national scale. It is possible that states may continue to offer the SAT essay for their school day administrations as a way to measure their school’s standing and accountability, but the section will no longer be offered on national test dates.
We expect that the ACT will make a similar move in the near future, though they will likely not want to be seen as merely following the College Board. We will keep you updated as we hear news from them as well.
It is not yet clear how schools will deal with students who have already taken Subject Tests and/or the SAT with Essay. This will be a decision made by each college. Unless the school has indicated that they will not accept such scores, we encourage students to submit strong results if they already have them.
The elimination of Subject Tests will likely put additional emphasis on strong SAT or ACT scores for schools that require them, as they will be become the only yardstick by which colleges can compare students across different schools and guard against grade inflation. Still, it will be far more manageable to focus on only one test instead of three or four.