On 19 January, the College Board announced that they would stop offering the SAT subject tests and discontinue the SAT essay section. Both of these features will be phased out by June 2021, while the organization works on rolling out a digital version of its core offering: the SAT exam.

Why has this decision come about now?

While SAT subject tests, also known as SAT IIs, have been offered to students for decades, they have always been considered a supplement to the main SAT exam, usually only taken by applicants to highly selective institutions. Their importance in the admissions process has decreased over the years, as the test-optional movement has gathered steam, resulting in a steady decline in the number of students taking this exam. Data from the College Board shows that in 2017 only around 200,000 high school students took an SAT Subject Test, as compared to 1.8 million students who took the SAT.

The SAT Essay, on the other hand, was once a core component of the main SAT exam, but was made optional in 2016. This, coupled with the fact that it was not considered a particularly valuable portion of the test and scored separately from the Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing sections, has also led to its declining importance over the years. By 2018, the vast majority of colleges and universities had dropped the SAT Essay requirement, with just a few notable exceptions.

These discrepancies have only become more apparent in light of the pandemic, which ushered in test-optional policies at the vast majority of colleges. Yet there was another select subset of schools like MIT, Harvard, Yale and Harvey Mudd, who had long encouraged their applicants to take SAT Subject Tests, who decided that they would not consider the results of these exams at all.
When considered against this background, the College Board’s announcement is not so much a surprise as it is an extension of this trend, especially amidst an environment where backlash against testing — and especially which excessive and unnecessary testing– is growing.

How will this affect the admissions process going forward?

While it is still early to predict exactly what this move means for colleges’ admissions policies, it will certainly simplify the application process by reducing the total number of tests any applicant needs to take. Furthermore, it reduces the ambiguity around testing, as several schools have continued to strongly recommend the SAT essay and SAT Subject Test scores, leaving students in a panic about unspoken requirements. In the absence of these tests, we can expect additional weightage to be given to AP scores or predicted IB or A-Level grades, which many believe are more accurate measures of subject-knowledge. Other components of the application, like essays, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities will of course remain ever-important in the holistic evaluation of the candidate.

What does this mean if I am applying in the 2021-22 admissions cycle?

In the interim, for those who are still planning to submit SAT Subject Test scores, it is worth checking directly with your colleges about their testing policies, in order to determine how much value these exams would add to your application. In the case of confusion around refunds or rescheduled test dates, you should contact the College Board directly.

We will continue to keep a close eye on this story and further developments around standardized testing, especially the roll-out of a digital SAT, so be sure to watch this space for more updates!