What do updates to the SAT mean for high school students?

Students sit in rows taking a standardized test.

Adam Raoof

Students completing assessments.

On January 19th, 2021, the College Board announced multiple changes to the SAT, a standardized test that many high school students take to assess college readiness. The two updates are the removal of the fifty minute optional essay section as well as the discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests.

The essay section of the SAT was an optional fifty minute addition to the three hour test, which allowed students to further demonstrate skills in writing. The College Board no longer believes this section is necessary and the essay will no longer be offered after June 2021. Those registered for the SAT with Essay this spring can cancel the essay portion, free of charge and at any time.

The SAT Subject Tests were exams students could take in order to demonstrate their knowledge in more specific subjects beyond the reading, writing, and math sections. These topics included science, English, history, and foreign languages. Oftentimes, colleges recommended or required students to take a few of these tests. 

The College Board believes the SAT Subject Tests are no longer necessary considering the applications of the AP Exams that many students take throughout their four years of high school. “The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability for low-income students and students of color means that Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know,” the College Board said. “AP provides students rich and varied opportunities to showcase their knowledge and skills through college-level coursework.”

Now with the discontinuation of these tests, students no longer need to worry about taking them. Students in the United States who have signed up for the subject tests will have their registrations cancelled and receive a refund.

The cancellation of these supplemental exams has reduced pressure for students struggling to sign up for and ace the Subject Tests during a global pandemic. Testing centers are closing and test dates are getting cancelled, which the College Board recognizes. 

However, the discontinuation of Subject Tests has put more pressure on AP Exam scores. AP Exams are now the standard for schools to assess college readiness in specific subjects, beyond the general reading, writing, and math of the SAT.

These changes may seem drastic, yet they coincide with many colleges choosing to go test optional in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this existing trend of decreasing the role of standardized testing in the college admissions process. “As students and colleges adapt to new realities and changes to the college admissions process, the College Board is making sure our programs adapt with them,” the College Board explained, “The pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.”