Just this week, College Board announced major changes to their offerings and that they will no longer be offering SAT II Subject Tests or the essay portion of the regular SAT. This announcement feels sudden and jarring and has left many students and parents wondering why the change was made and how it will affect their college application planes.
In this article, we’ll first explore why College Board made the decision, and then discuss how these changes will impact future college applicants. The good news, however, is that this looks like a net positive for students looking to apply to competitive schools.
Why is the SAT II Cancelled?
There are a few reasons why this change was made, but the proximate cause is the Covid-19 pandemic, which accelerated trends that were already present. Subject Tests have been in a slow decline for the past several years, as fewer and fewer schools require either them or the essay section. This has coupled with the rise of AP tests, which more and more students are taking.
AP tests and Subject Tests are directly competing with each other, as most students perceive both offer a chance to display subject mastery to colleges. AP classes, however, come with the added benefit that many schools will accept high AP scores for credit, or to fulfill course prerequisites.
This has created a feedback loop, where fewer and fewer students felt motivated to take the Subject Tests, and fewer and fewer schools saw value in requiring them. Subject Tests were in a gradual decline, and it was a question of when not if they would be phased out.
The essay section of the SAT is in a similar place. Most schools no longer require it, though many students still complete it due to the few schools that do. While it was not certain to meet the axe, given how few schools still find it a valuable assessment tool, it isn’t surprising that it too is being discarded.
So why is the change happening now? Because Covid-19 has hurt College Board a lot and weakened their hold on college admissions generally. Due to test center closures, many students who registered to take the SAT were unable to. As we’ve discussed before, this has caused the vast majority of schools to go test-optional for 2020, and many have already announced test-optional policies for students applying in 2021.
This increase in test-optional admissions has reignited debates on whether or not standardized tests are necessary for college admissions at all. This is quite worrying for College Board, as a significant portion of their business will immediately collapse if colleges decide standardized tests are no longer necessary.
This is why they made the other part of their announcement, making SATs easier to take, and available online. They hope to address criticisms and forestall the end of standardized testing in admissions. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen, but as for now, the SAT itself isn’t going anywhere.
What Does This Mean For Students?
This is, overall, generally good news for students. The SAT Subject Tests occupied a strange area of overlap with AP tests, and many students felt compelled to take both, greatly increasing their workload. By eliminating this test, you can focus more on the regular SAT or ACT and concentrate on preparing for whatever AP exams you’ve decided to take.
If you’ve already taken a Subject Test, there will most likely be a grace period where schools are still accepted by schools but expect that to end eventually. Some schools already do not accept scores from these tests.
The schools that do require the essay section will have to find some other way to evaluate a student’s writing capability, and so will likely begin weighing your essays even more heavily. As most schools already don’t require the essays, this will likely have less impact, and will just save you 45 minutes when you next take the SATs.
The change which remains to be seen is their new structure for online SATs. While their online AP exams last spring were plagued with issues, College Board appears confident in their technological ability. They have had a year to resolve bugs, and new approaches for completing work remotely have seen large breakthroughs and pushes for acceptance this year. This could be the start of a new SATs era and begin a decline in dedicated testing centers.
Standardized Tests and Students
If this is the beginning of the end for standardized tests, what does that mean for students? How will college applications be affected if these test scores are no longer part of the consideration process?
This will be incredibly helpful for students who don’t test well, or whose test scores are far lower than their grades would predict. It also will reduce a lot of stress and studying, as many students devote long hours to preparing for these tests. This time can instead be spent pursuing extracurriculars, or studying for classes at school.
For some students however, this will be more of a problem. Many students count on achieving high test scores to buoy unimpressive grades when colleges examine their academic achievement. This will no longer be possible. Most top schools currently do weigh grades higher than test scores already, and most already state that high test scores will not make up for low grades. In slightly less competitive schools, however, high test scores often can make up for mediocre grades.
This means students will need to focus much more on their academic performance in the classroom, and many former test tutors will rebrand to help prepare for various academic subjects.
AP exams are also not likely to go anywhere, and as the SATs continue to decline, they might rise in importance. This does raise problems though, as not all schools offer AP classes, and those that do have different classes offered, and the number of classes offered by a school varies greatly. While AP exams may increase in importance, it is doubtful they will ever come to replace the SAT.
We will be able to observe a microcosm of what may happen in California, as the entire UC system decided to forgo using standardized test scores in admissions decisions, and was then banned from considering scores at all. This will allow other schools to see what impacts a lack of standardized test scores bring, even at elite institutions. Schools will also be analyzing data from the incoming class this year, many of whom applied without test scores. How these students perform could decide the future of standardized testing in college admissions.
While this may feel like the beginning of the end for standardized tests, the SAT is here to stay for now. The loss of the Subject tests and essays will benefit most students, as they will have fewer variables to consider, and fewer exams to study for and complete. Students who still wish to demonstrate academic mastery in a subject should focus on the AP exams instead.
Standardized tests can be stressful, and the added stress from uncertainty in schedule can add to that. At Ivy Scholars, we work to eliminate as much stress as possible from the test preparation process and make sure each student is fully equipped on test day. If you want to know more about how we do this, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation. We’re always eager to hear from you.