What College Board’s Subject Test/Essay Announcement Really Means
The College Board’s announcement last week that it was scrapping the SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay seems at first glance like great news for students. With fewer admissions tests to sign up for, study for, and fret over, this move ostensibly looks like a merciful de-escalation of college admissions testing. When examined more closely, however, the College Board’s decision—particularly the Subject Test move—is probably driven more by self-interested business calculations than a genuine desire to improve the standardized testing landscape.
With its elimination of SAT Subject Tests, the College Board is doubling down on the continued expansion of its Advanced Placement (AP) testing. Over the past 10 years, Subject Tests have waned in popularity, dropping from an estimated 780,000 tests taken by the Class of 2010 to just 440,000 Subject Tests taken by the Class of 2020. Just 10 percent of high school students last year took SAT Subject Tests in the first place.
Meanwhile, the number of AP tests administered over the last 10 years has increased by an astonishing 45 percent. In 2010, 3.2 million AP tests were administered, while that figure rose to 4.7 million in 2020—a number that would’ve been higher if not for the pandemic.
Hours previously spent preparing for SAT Subject Tests will probably be offset to some extent by time studying for AP tests. Locally, a number of independent schools in the DC area may also need to reevaluate eliminating AP testing now that SAT Subject Tests will no longer be an option to demonstrate competency in a course.
Regarding the SAT Essay, we are pleased with the College Board’s decision to scrap this formulaic and essentially mindless section. In our view, the 2015 essay redesign was immensely flawed from the outset. In 2015, despite doubling the length of the essay from 25 minutes to 50 minutes, the College Board made this section optional (explain to us again the sense in doubling the amount of time to take the essay, but making it optional?). The SAT also altered the format so that instead of asking students to lay out an argument or provide an opinion (the old essay structure), they were merely tasked with explaining how an author “builds an argument to persuade an audience.” This banal and pointless section did nothing to actually measure how students write or think, and instead asked them to regurgitate what was written in front of them. Good riddance, SAT Essay!
One final note: the College Board wrote that it continues work towards a “streamlined, digitally delivered test” but has not offered a specific timeline. An earlier announcement from spring 2020 discussed digital testing at-home, but a College Board spokesman told the New York Times earlier this week that any digital version of the SAT would be given at “testing centers” by “live proctors.” It is clear from the College Board’s latest announcement that despite working on formulating a digital test, the organization has no immediate plans to administer these tests.
We will continue to monitor any significant updates to SAT or ACT testing and inform families of any imminent changes.