College Board Announces the End of SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay

Independent School Testing Requirements

College Board Places Greater Emphasis on Advanced Placement Tests

On January 19, the College Board – maker of the SAT, Advanced Placement (AP) Tests and SAT Subject Tests – announced that effective immediately, it will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests in the United States and that it will discontinue the SAT Essay after the June 2021 administration. International students will have the opportunity to take Subject Tests in May and June 2021. The College Board will reimburse students who have already signed up for Subject Tests this year as well as those who wish to cancel their essay registration. In its announcement, the College Board stated that it hoped to reduce demands on students. It also announced that in the spring it will release information on a more “streamlined digitally delivered” SAT.

College Board’s announcement was no surprise to many college counselors. In 2018, a wave of colleges dropped their SAT Essay/ACT Writing requirements, and those sections haven’t played a large role in the admissions process ever since. In early 2020, even before the pandemic really set in, we saw colleges that had previously required Subject Test scores as part of the admissions process reverse course and no longer consider the scores even if an applicant submitted them. This group included Caltech, Harvey Mudd College, and MIT.

This move by colleges to stop requiring or recommending Subject Test scores has led to a steep decline in students taking the tests. By contrast, the number of students taking AP exams has increased sharply. From 2000 to 2020, the number of students taking SAT Subject tests declined by 42.3%. In the same time, the number of students taking AP tests increased by 273.5%.  The College Board has stated that it views its AP exams as a way for students to show their interest and expertise in particular disciplines, in lieu of Subject tests. The College Board currently offers 38 AP courses and exams, and in 2019, more than 1.2 million students took an AP exam.

Rigorous classes become more important than ever

From a college admissions perspective, it is more important than ever that students take appropriately rigorous classes.  One way is through AP courses.  By taking AP courses and exams, students can show colleges that they are willing to push themselves academically. How many and which AP courses a student takes depends on a number of factors, including a student’s previous academic performance, interests, and total workload.

AP tests, however, are not the only way that students can show their interest and expertise in a given subject area. Some high schools have moved away from offering AP-designated courses altogether, in which case students may not be appropriately prepared for the exam. Rest assured that college admissions officers aren’t looking for students to take an AP exam that does not align with their coursework.

Colleges look closely at the quality of a student’s teacher recommendations

Other avenues for highlighting student engagement in rigorous classes could include writing a complex research paper or completing a challenging science project. Alternatively, students can demonstrate proficiency by entering a competition, such as the Certamen competition for classics students. More generally, it’s always helpful to demonstrate interest and investment with relevant faculty, since colleges look closely at the quality of a student’s teacher recommendations.

In some cases, with a little extra preparation, it may be possible for students to take an AP exam even without having taken the AP course. Marks Education can assist students who would like to take an AP exam but need extra help with content not covered in their class in school.

Have questions about these changes? Contact us to be connected to a counselor or tutor. Our tutors are available to help provide academic support to students, as well as preparation for SAT/ACT and AP tests.

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