College Board Ending SAT Essay and Subject Tests

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Article by Tei Kim, Writer

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mid-January the College Board announced that it would discontinue the SAT Subject Tests and the optional essay. In the United States, this decision is effective immediately for Subject Tests, and the optional essay will no longer be offered after June 2021. For international students, this June will be the last SAT administration with the essay; Subject Tests will be offered to international students until June, due to many of them using the Subject Tests for purposes other than admission to a US university.

This news may have come as a shock to some students and families, but this change may ease anxiety. College Board officials say that this decision took into consideration a number of factors. According to the New York Times, the College Board announced that “the pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.” The SAT with Essay consists of one passage of 650-750 words that students respond to, but it wasn’t always used by colleges as a factor in admissions. For example, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Jeremiah Quinlan supported the College Board’s change and explained, “The essay score never really became a part of our review process.”

Even before the pandemic, the Subject Tests and the optional essay were losing influence. For instance, the SAT with Essay was required until a few years ago; however, over the course of a few years, most top schools, including Ivy League schools, dropped the SAT with Essay requirement. Some of the only schools that continued to require the optional essay were the University of California schools, but this may change with the new announcement from the College Board. Regarding the sudden discontinuation of the essay portion of the SAT, CNN reported that the College Board stated that “this change simply streamlines the process for students who have other, more relevant opportunities to show they can write an essay as part of the work they’re already doing on their path to college.”

Meanwhile, the Subject Tests, lasting 60 minutes each, used multiple-choice questions to cover topics ranging from math and sciences to history and foreign languages, with a maximum score of 800. These tests traditionally served as a way for students to earn college credit. For many years, Ivy League schools and other schools such as Georgetown University recommended, encouraged, or accepted Subject Test scores as a means for students to prove their proficiency and possibly aid them in college admission. 

Reactions to the College Board’s decision to scrap the SAT with Essay and Subject Tests have been mixed. Massachusetts college counselor Elizabeth Heaton said, “For students who aren’t getting great advising, it is nice to see that they haven’t been eliminated from competition just by virtue of not having a test that they may not have known about.” On the other hand, some expressed concerns: “Hundreds of my students take the subject tests in Spanish and other languages because it provides them an opportunity to show their understanding of a second language,” said Catalina Cifuentes, who works to promote college access in Riverside County, California. 

As the College Board explained in their official statement, there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery in writing, and their English skills can be measured in the Writing and Language portion of the SAT. Intending to reduce demands on students, the College Board also acknowledged that “the expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.”

Regardless of motivation, it is undeniable that this decision to discontinue the SAT with Essay, and Subject Tests will have an impact on millions of students around the world as they prepare for college admissions.