By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling
Yesterday, the College Board announced several key changes to their testing infrastructure:
- The discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests.
- The discontinuation of the optional essay section of the SAT.
- The creation of a more flexible SAT that can be administered digitally.
Whoa! These are three major changes that will have real implications for the college admissions process, starting immediately. Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests
Hallelujah! This is great news for students! It means one less stress during what is often an already stressful process. While Subject Tests were not a requirement at the majority of schools, they were an unwritten fringe benefit at selective colleges. Now that they’re no longer on the table, students don’t need to fret about the impact of taking these tests at all.
However, there is a flip side to the Subject Test elimination. Subject Tests offered a clear way to show distinction in a particular academic area. For instance, if you were a wiz at physics, you could take the Physics Subject Test, likely do well, and add this to your application profile. Selective colleges came to use these tests as a way to differentiate among top students, especially if they weren’t familiar with the rigor of various high schools (and therefore felt uncertain about using grades as a sole indicator).
The College Board is also focusing on the AP program as a viable alternative to Subject Tests and saying that this is now the best way to show distinction in a particular subject. Whereas this is great for students who have AP classes offered in their high schools, not all schools offer these top-level classes. Less well-resourced schools often do not offer APs and, some (often independent) schools, have created their own unique courses and curriculum–not wanting to subscribe to the AP program. Students can take AP exams even if they didn’t take the classes, but for these students, the exams are harder to access and they might not have the curriculum behind them to be well prepared. So, there’s a lot of inconsistency and uncertainty surrounding this new plan.
Discontinuation of the Optional Essay on the SAT
This too is good news! Colleges had by and large already stopped requiring the essay in recent years, and no one seemed to pay it a whole lot of attention. Not to mention that it added another hour to a test that is already three hours long. Four hours of sitting with laser-like focus is brutal! While we had stopped advising Premium Prep students to take the essay option once the University of California system stopped requiring it (they were the last big hold out), many less well-informed students still felt pressured to take this extra section, which was mostly a waste of time and money.
More Flexible SAT Testing – Digitally Delivered
If we’ve learned nothing else from this pandemic, it is that many, many things can be successfully done virtually! And while hopefully we won’t have another pandemic in our lifetime, unexpected circumstances will continue to arise, and having a digital option creates significantly greater flexibility (and hopefully access). Think of how a digital option could help communities impacted by fires, tornados, or hurricanes in the future! The ACT had already announced that they plan to create a digital option, so College Board and ACT are now racing to be first in this endeavor.
It sounds like College Board is hoping to use some of the resources previously allocated for Subject Tests and the SAT essay portion to invest in this revised SAT. They plan to provide more details later this spring, so stay tuned!
Shameless plug alert! At Premium Prep, we make it our business to stay on top of these developments, keep our students informed, and empower them to pivot as needed. If you think we can be helpful to you as you navigate the college admissions process, we have openings for the class of 2023 and we still have a few remaining spots for the class of 2022. — Let’s talk!