Over the last few days, the College Board has announced that they are scrapping the optional SAT subject tests and essay, describing the move as an effort to ‘reduce and simplify demands on students.’ In this blog article, we will consider what is behind this sudden change and what the implications are for students.
What has the College Board said?
There are three parts to the statement released on January 19th.
Discontinuing Subject SAT’s.
This will happen immediately for students in the US but there will be two further iterations, in May and June, for students in other countries
Discontinuing the SAT Essay.
As of June, the Essay will only be available in a handful of states in the US that use the essay as part of a wider testing programme.
Creating a digital SAT.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for a digital version of the test, however, the College Board has not announced when this test will be available.
What’s behind these decisions?
The pandemic has presented a long list of challenges for not just the College Board, but also the ACT, tests have been cancelled and all colleges went test optional for students applying for 2021. Already many colleges, including some of those popular with our students, such as Swarthmore, Amhurst and Tufts, have said they will not require standardised test scores for students applying in 2021. However, the writing was on the wall for the subject tests and essay long before the pandemic hit.
Recent years have seen a precipitous drop in the number of colleges requiring applicants to submit subject tests as part of their application, to a point where only five colleges required subject tests and a further twelve recommended them. The impact of this change is the drop in the number of students sitting the test, down by 45% since 2010. Facing such a drop in numbers it is likely that the College Board decided that the economics of continuing to offer the tests no longer added up, resulting in this week’s announcement.
Similarly, the discontinuation of the optional essay is likely down to the changing trends in student testing behaviour. In many colleges, the essay has never been a required part of the application, and even when it was a compulsory element of the SAT, many colleges chose to ignore it. In 2017, when more colleges required the essay, 70% of students chose to take the essay, by 2019 it had dropped to 57%.
What does it mean for the future?
In their announcement, the College Board was keen to extol the benefits of another of their products, AP exams, and it seems that this will become the way students will demonstrate their knowledge across different subjects. In the US AP’s are a standard part of the high school curriculum, but internationally they are less common. For students from outside of the United States, AP’s and SAT subject tests were often taken in addition to the curriculum offered by their school as a way of either demonstrating their ability to work at a more rigorous level or provide greater breadth to their studies, with the removal of the subject tests more students will take AP’s.
Although there are still going to be SAT subject tests in May and June for international students, colleges will be unlikely to consider these in applications this year.
The big question remains, what is the future of the main SAT test? The announcement of a move to a digital testing platform was first touted as the pandemic hit, when it was suggested that it would be available in September 2020. College Board seems to be taking a more pragmatic view of its introduction now but with more colleges expected to announce a move to test optional applications for those applying in 2021 and the UC’s dropping the SAT altogether, it’s a reasonable question to ask ‘What is the future for the SAT?’