The SAT is Dropping its Essay Section, Subject Matter Tests During Pandemic


The College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance examination and has seen its business battered by the coronavirus pandemic, said Tuesday that it will drop the optional essay section from the SAT and stop administering subject-matter tests in the United States.

“The pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students,” the organization said in a statement, adding that it would also continue to develop a version of the SAT test that could be administered digitally — something it tried and failed to do quickly with an at-home version last year after the pandemic shut down testing centers.

The board gave no time frame for when a digital version of the SAT, which would be administered at testing centers by live proctors, might be introduced, but said it would provide more information in April.

The changes to the SAT come as more and more colleges are dropping the requirement that students take the test, as well as its competitor the ACT, a trend driven in part by concerns about equity that received a boost during the pandemic.

Critics of the College Board said the decision was almost certainly driven by financial considerations. The SAT has in the past represented a substantial portion of the College Board’s more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

“The SAT and the subject exams are dying products on their last breaths, and I’m sure the costs of administering them are substantial,” Jon Boeckenstedt, the vice provost of enrollment management at Oregon State University, said in an email.

At the same, he said, the College Board was likely to try to use the elimination of the subject tests to try to convince elite high schools to offer more Advanced Placement courses, whose tests the College Board also administers, as a way to burnish their students’ transcripts. But because A.P. tests have to be taken at the end of a student’s junior year or earlier for their scores to be considered in admissions decisions, more focus on A.P. scores in the admissions process would likely only increase pressure on students.

“Overall, it’s good for College Board, and probably not so good for students,” Mr. Boeckenstedt said. “In other words, par for the course.”

Indeed, in its announcement, the board said that A.P. courses provided students “rich and varied opportunities to showcase their knowledge and skills” and that the “expanded reach of A.P. and its widespread availability for low-income students and students of color” made the subject tests no longer necessary.

David Coleman, the chief executive officer of the College Board, said the organization’s goal was not to get more students to take A.P. courses and tests, but to eliminate redundant exams, thereby reducing the burden on high school students applying to college.

“Anything that can reduce unnecessary anxiety and get out of the way is of huge value to us,” he said.



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