The College Board announced January 19 that it is eliminating the SAT’s optional essay and end its SAT Subject Test offerings.  These changes equate to zero downside for students.  Many have long complained about the seemingly excessive overlapping requirements for admissions required by the most competitive colleges.  They will save time, minimize the need to study for overlapping standardized tests and give students the opportunity to showcase their talents in a more organic way.  

The popularity of the Subject Tests and SAT essay have declined in recent years, so this decision is not a huge surprise and the difficulty of administering exams during COVID-19 undoubtedly hastened the inevitable.  The change is good news for students as it reduces the need to study for extra college admissions tests and cuts nearly an hour from the SAT for those who chose to complete the essay section. 

No SAT Essay Means More Time for Test Prep and More Focus on College Essays 

The SAT essay added an extra 50-minutes to the three-hour exam and required students to learn the SAT’s formula for good essay writing.  Its time constraint and artificial prompts limited many strong writers and students reported that it was difficult to maintain concentration for a full four-hour exam.  Without the essay, students can focus their test prep on the SAT’s other four multiple-choice sections, covering grammar and writing, reading comprehension and math.   

The elimination of the SAT essay also puts the emphasis on good writing where it belongs:   the student’s own personal essays, crafted over days or weeks in response to one or more prompts listed in a college admissions application.  Admissions offers have long preferred a student’s personal essay because it reflects an applicant’s writing ability and character better than the SAT’s generic essay prompt.  

No Subject Tests Means More Time for APs  

The Advanced Placement (AP) exams, with their blend of multiple choice and long-form responses, are widely considered a better measure of evaluating a student’s sophisticated analytical reasoning skills than the multiple choice Subject Tests.  In 2019, only 220,000 students took Subject Tests – that’s one-tenth as many as took the AP exams – so phasing out the Subject Tests only affects a small minority of students.   

What does it mean for student currently registered for either? 

  • Students currently registered for an upcoming SAT Subject Test in the U.S. will automatically have their registration canceled and fees refunded.  Georgetown University was the only college left that still required three Subject Tests, while a few other highly-selective schools strongly encouraged applicants to submit scores.  
  • Students who are currently registered, or plan to register, for an upcoming SAT with Essay will still be able to test through the June 2021 administration.  Students who prefer to cancel the optional Essay portion of their SAT can do so in their online account, with no change fees, until the registration deadline. 
  • After June 2021, the essay will only be available in states where it’s required as part of SAT School Day administrations.  Students scheduled to take the SAT on a school day should check with their school about whether the Essay will be included. 

What about the ACT? 

  • The essay section remains a part of the ACT Test though the SAT’s change means ACT may soon follow suit and drop this segment from its test day line-up.