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The College Board announced January 19 that it is eliminating the SAT’s optional essay and ending its SAT Subject Test offerings.  These changes pose zero downside for students.  Students, parents and high school counselors alike have complained about the overlapping requirements for college admissions. That’s particularly true of the most competitive colleges.  Scrapping the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT essay will save students time.

No more studying for AP U.S. History and then the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History. Best of all, cutting out the duplication gives 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. Plus, the difficulty of administering exams during COVID-19 undoubtedly hastened the inevitable.  

Removing the SAT essay also cuts nearly an hour from the SAT. That’s great news for students who find it hard enough to muster the stamina for a three-hour exam.  

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. It also forced students to learn the SAT’s formula for good essay writing.  Its time constraint and artificial prompts limited many strong writers. Further, 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. That means students can double down on grammar and writing, reading comprehension and math.   

Better still, without the SAT essay, the college essay is more important than ever. That puts the emphasis on good writing that reveals personal character and interests. Students craft their personal essay over weeks. They key their response to the kind of open-ended prompts you find in the Common Application. That provides a lot more latitude for creativity and personal expression. 

Not surprisingly, admissions officers have always preferred a student’s personal essay to their score on the SAT essay section. That’s because it reflects an applicant’s writing ability and character better than the SAT’s generic essay prompt.  

No SAT Subject Tests Means More Time for APs  

The Advanced Placement (AP) exams better measure a student’s analytical reasoning skills than the multiple choice Subject Tests.  AP exams test materially deeply and require students to craft long-form essays and answer free response questions. For those reasons, many admissions officers believe the AP exams are a better test of a student’s ability to excel in college than the SAT Subject Tests. 

There is also the issue of popularity. 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.  In addition, the College Board seems to be responding to student demand. Why offer a test that so few students want to take? 

What does it mean for students currently registered for either? 

  • Students currently registered for an upcoming SAT Subject Test in the U.S. will automatically have their registration canceled. The College Board will refund their fees.  Georgetown University was the only college left that still required three Subject Tests. 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 June 2021.  Students who prefer to cancel the optional SAT essay portion of their exam can do so in their online account. There is 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 SAT essay will be included. 

Will the ACT Abandon the Essay Section? 

The essay section remains a part of the ACT Test. That said, many admissions pros speculate that the ACT may soon follow the SAT’s lead and drop the essay segment from its test day line-up.