College Board terminates SAT subject tests and optional essay

With the rise in AP classes and exams, the College Board decided to use them as a replacement for the SAT tests.


Madison Seckman

A couple of years ago, an AP student drew this sign and put it on a trash can in Mhari Doyle’s AP Language and Composition class. Many students hold the belief that the College Board is a messy organization that needs a lot of changes. The lack of subject tests and the optional essay are two very big changes for the College Board that will hopefully make life easier for high school students. “For me at least, [subject tests] felt like one more test to stress about,” said junior Sirinya Frankel, who took the Spanish subject test.

Madison Seckman, Design Editor

While the world changes to accommodate the coronavirus and modernization, college admissions have to change, too. Since fewer and fewer college recruitment officers are requiring SAT scores or reviewing subject tests and optional essays, the College Board decided to terminate the tests and essays.

On Jan. 19, 2021, the end of subject tests and optional essays was announced. A lot of mixed feelings followed.

“If [subject tests and essays] had continued to be a requirement, it would exempt a lot of kids from even trying to apply to those schools that did require those kinds of tests,” AP English Language and Composition teacher Mhari Doyle said. “So, I think, hopefully what this will do is help make sure that there’s not an economic advantage for certain students.”

Supplementary exams – more commonly known as subject tests – were offered in many courses such as history, languages, and chemistry. Students could take these exams to show colleges their skills in specific subjects, and many students hired tutors to prepare them for the tests. For the SAT essay, students had a 50 minute time limit, and the majority of SAT test takers opted to write the essay.

In the last few years, college recruitment officers have drifted further and further away from consideration of standardized testing. Whether or not a student took a challenging road in their course choices became one of the most important factors in recruitment – even more important than SAT tests and subject tests.

According to The New York Times, “the subject tests have been eclipsed by the rise of Advanced Placement [AP] exams.”

Subject tests became redundant for students taking AP classes because their tests were similar and both were directed for college classes. AP tests give students college credit, and subjects tests would allow students to test out of college classes. Both saved students money by considerably bringing down the price of college credit.

According to the Washington Post, “a student who scored well on an AP calculus test, for example, might wonder why it would be necessary to also take an SAT subject test in math.”

Junior Sirinya Frankel, an AP English Language student who also took a subject test for Spanish, questioned the worthwhileness of taking the SAT essay if she is already taking the AP English exam.

“If you’ve already done a bunch of stuff with rhetorical analysis in English, and you’re satisfied with the performance you put out, then I don’t know that having the [SAT] essay adds all that much,” Frankel said.

The College Board claimed they terminated SAT subject tests and essays because of how redundant they were with AP tests and the changes COVID-19 made to the teaching and learning environment.

Learning was a lot harder this year for many students and the curriculum was much shorter than usual. Students did not have the proper teaching to perform as well as normal on subject tests, so the College Board removed the tests.

Unfortunately, removing subject tests also had some negative effects for students.

“I guess you will potentially lose another benchmark,” Frankel said. “Because that’s what the tests are for; they’re just to see how far you’ve progressed and what you can get better at.”

Critics are also afraid that the lack of subject tests might mean more pressure for high school students to take many AP classes to earn college credit. Loading up on AP courses, especially in junior year, can make life a lot harder, the Washington Post said.

As of now, the College Board will continue to offer SAT subject tests and essays until June 1, 2021. College Board, like many other businesses, is going to continue to change with or without regard to teachers’ and students’ opinions.

“I think that that College Board is a business like any other business, and they’re fighting to stay relevant in these changing times. While I don’t personally agree that education should be commodified, I understand that they’ve got a bottom line in their business and they got to fight to stay relevant,” Doyle said. “I just wish that it didn’t come at the expense of our students’ opportunities.”