This week the College Board announced that it was doing away with the optional essay portion of the SAT test and scrapping the SAT subject tests. I doubt many students will be disappointed. The essay, a rhetorical analysis of an argument, added fifty minutes to the end of what was already a marathon test and $15 to the testing fee. Now students can treat themselves to a nice post-test lunch instead.
SAT subject tests were required by some elite schools, and they were hard. The Literature test included 16th-century poetry, and the Math 2 test had things you don’t even want to know about. They will not be missed. Colleges can still use the AP, IB, and CLEP exams, which basically serve the same purpose of testing students in particular subject areas.
One criticism of the SAT essay was that it was redundant: practically every college requires students to submit application essays on topics of the college’s choosing. Why force students to analyze Jimmy Carter’s use of anaphora on top of that?
The ACT has not yet announced plans to cut its essay (a much friendlier compare-and-contrast exercise, rather than a rhetorical analysis), but I would expect this change sooner rather than later. The ACT has a reputation (well-deserved for the most part) as a more student-friendly test, and I imagine they want to keep it that way. (The ACT has never offered subject tests.)
The SAT essay will be disappearing after the June test. Should students wait to take the test until the essay is gone? Not necessarily. If you’re already signed up for a spring test, go ahead and take it. Writing the essay won’t kill you (I promise!), and considering that colleges won’t be able to compare your essay score to those of other students, they probably won’t pay much attention to it. And, not to be too much of a downer here, but although we have vaccines, we also have new variants of the virus. So it is conceivable that it will be easier to take the test this spring than in the summer or next fall. I really hope that’s not true, but you never know!
A final announcement from the College Board: computer-based, at-home SATs are coming soon. How soon? They didn’t say. But this is obviously good news. Last year, many students arrived at their testing center only to find a note on the door announcing that the test had been cancelled. Some colleges have temporarily waived the SAT requirement during the pandemic, and the College Board is no doubt doing what it can to prevent these changes from becoming permanent. More and more people are working and attending classes from home. It only makes sense that students should be able to test from home as well.
So, good news all around! No essay, no subject tests, and hopefully no more unexpected cancellations. Students and parents can save time, save money, and breathe a little easier.