SAT Eliminates Essay and Subject Tests: What Does That Mean For You and Your Learner?

COVID provides a few perks. No daily commute, fewer showers (or is that just me), and slimmer standardized tests.

The College Board, administrator of the SAT, announced that the SAT essay, as well as the supplemental SAT Subject Tests, will be eliminated. The writer in me is disappointed that there will be less writing in the world (I sense a disturbance in the Force), but students won’t have to add an extra 50 minutes to an already long and often stressful rite of passage.

The SAT essay’s death knell was already clanging when the University of California system, home to over 220,000 annual applications, eliminated that requirement last year. This non-multiple choice portion of the SAT, introduced four decades ago, was supposed to be a college performance predictor, but was frequently regarded as an unnecessary annoyance.

Over 50 years ago, the SAT Subject Tests boosted students’ chances with selective colleges, alongside metrics like GPA, extracurriculars and SAT or ACT scores. In 2005, the SAT proper absorbed the Writing Subject Test, so most colleges required two, rather than three, Subject Tests. Many universities moved from requiring to recommending to only considering Subject Tests, so fewer students were taking them. Since both Subject Test and essay assessment tools were becoming unpopular, their lack of revenue finally ushered them out of high school student nightmares.

Now learners don’t have to write SAT essays, or worry about the extra expense and effort for the Subject Tests. So what else might boost college entrance chances, in addition to writing the SAT or ACT?

Advanced Placement classes and tests appear to fill this gap. The good news is that most students and parents already know about AP classes as part of most comprehensive curriculums. APs provide college class experiences in high school, plus offer college credit for passing the end-of-year exam, possibly allowing students to take higher level college classes earlier, and maybe graduate early (and save tuition money!).

The AP model is more reality-based and practical than Subject Tests and timed essays. Students usually spend a full school year in AP courses, immersed in disciplines covering 38 different subjects, rather than scrambling to add last-minute points and assessments. AP learning is comprehensive and more relaxed, utilizing professional supervision and classroom discussions. Essay writing is a crucial component of the English-based APs, so learners can prepare for college in the classroom, with teachers and alongside tutors, over time to hone their skills, rather than struggling to produce a one-time masterpiece in 50 minutes.

Near the beginning of COVID quarantine, the College Board offered truncated AP tests online, and is continuing to be responsive to other pandemic accommodations. The organization also plans to provide more information about the updated SAT by April, likely including revised digital delivery options. Industry insiders also predict that the ACT essay will be eliminated soon as well, as the two test prep giants often emulate the others’ changes.

Now that the essay and Subject Tests are in the rearview mirror, update your high school student’s college preparation plan, grab an AP class schedule, and take a shower (or maybe that’s just me).

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Karin McKie, MFA, is a seasoned online educator and educational consultant specializing in critical reading, creative writing and everything English, at Karin McKie dot com.

Karin is a culture worker and communicator, educator and publicist, actor and activist, and is equally fond of dogs and cats. KarinMcKie.com