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Update on the SAT: Dropped Essay and Subject Tests


College Board made a big announcement in January that they were going to be discontinuing the SAT Subject Tests, discontinuing the optional SAT essay, and also that they were going to continue working towards a digitally delivered version of the SAT. 

What does this mean?

Dropped Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests were exams over individual subject areas that were used to supplement the primary SAT in the application process. Unlike the AP or CLEP tests, the SAT Subject Tests did not offer the possibility of earning students college credit.

The reality is fewer colleges have been requiring/recommending the SAT Subject tests anyways, with the ones who have been using the tests primarily being top-tier schools. So for most schools, this part of the announcement will not matter. College Board made this as a business decision, reflecting the fact that the demand for these tests was no longer there (amplified all the more by the COVID challenges to testing availability).

If you were looking at a highly selective school, there will probably be a greater emphasis on the AP exams to demonstrate proficiency in individual subjects, so you might divert more attention to preparing for those tests. Check out our blog post on free resources for the AP and Clep tests

If you were already registered for an SAT Subject Test you will be receiving a full refund.

Elimiating SAT Optional Essay

The second part of the announcement was that the optional essay was going to be discontinued after the June 2021 SAT test.

Again, this is being made as a business decision. Fewer schools have been requiring an essay, and most selective colleges have separate essay prompts as part of their application process that give a better demonstration of a student's writing ability than a 50 minute timed essay at the end of a 3-hour long exam.

How does this affect you? If you weren't looking at a top-tier school, probably not much except removing another decision as to whether you should take the essay portion of the test or not. If you are looking at a selective school, it's just another reason to put more effort, thought and energy into crafting solid application essays.

If you are an ACT test taker, this decision will probably even further diminish the value of taking the optional ACT essay, so my general recommendation would be to pass on the essay portion unless you are just an amazing speed writer.

Digital / Flexible SAT Offering

Probably the most broadly-impacting part of the announcement was the third part, stating that College Board is investing in a streamlined, digitally delivered test option. A digital SAT? Perhaps that could even be taken at home? That sounds intriguing, but also very vague with no timeline offered or much details. So while the idea of a digital SAT might sound good in theory,  College Board has on multiple occasions made announcements in the past that they then walked back on, so I wouldn't make any of your high school plans based on that point until the digital test is actually available.

College Board does also state that by eliminating the SAT Subject Tests, additional testing capacity would be opened up to allow for more SAT tests to be offered with social distancing should COVID continue to impact testing.

Looking for help preparing for the SAT? We will offer a LIVE 4-week crash course prepping for the March 13th SAT exam date starting on February 17th, you can find details here.

We also offer a FREE 10-page prep guide to the ACT (our SAT guide is in the works), which is available here.

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