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College Board Discontinues SAT® Subject Tests and Optional Essay

For students preparing for upcoming SAT® exams, the optional Essay section and specific Subject Tests will no longer be available. 

On January 19, 2021, the College Board® announced adaptations to the SAT exam, specifically the discontinuation of the optional Essay section and Subject Tests. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic creating postponements, cancellations, and general consternation about the availability and safety at this year’s exam sites, the College Board stated that “the pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.”

To this point, the Washington Post reports that 2.2 million students registered to take the SAT exam in 2020, but only approximately 900,000 tests were taken. Closures at testing centers due to public health concerns are the primary and obvious reason for such a discrepancy. 

Though the optional Essay section is no longer available, writing and editing skills are still essential, and these skills are measured in the exam’s Reading and Writing and Language tests. 

The cancellation of the SAT Subject Tests comes as little surprise to educators and college admissions officers. In recent years, the use of Subject Tests, multiple-choice tests which highlighted specific subject skills, seemed to dwindle as AP® exams became more prominent. 

Taking both SAT Subject Tests and AP exams for the same subjects was an obvious redundancy, with students choosing the benefits of AP courses and AP exams over SAT Subject Tests. 

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, notes in the Post’s article that the wide availability of AP programs “make subject tests less necessary.” He states that “AP provides a much richer and more flexible way for students to distinguish themselves.”

The bottom line for students preparing to take an upcoming SAT exam is that their testing day will be shorter and less stressful. 

The SAT exam is a 3 hour exam, made up of three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math (Calculator and Non-Calculator). Previously, there was an additional (optional) Essay section that added 50 minutes to the testing experience. That is no longer something students have to consider. 

For students looking to distinguish themselves from other college applicants, AP courses and exams are now more important than ever. SAT Subject Tests are no longer differentiators colleges or universities can consider. Therefore, look for AP exams to grow in prominence and importance. 

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