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Last Updated On: January 25th, 2021

This past Tuesday, the College Board—the organization that runs the SAT testing program and AP exams—announced that it is dropping the SAT Subject tests and the optional essay section of the SAT General Exam.

The official reasoning of the College Board is “to reduce and simplify demands on students.” In addition, it plans to allocate seats intended for subject tests to students who are taking the SAT General Test, which is important for spacing concerns during the pandemic. The College Board also states, “The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability for low-income students and students of color means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.”

In other words, the College Board has realized that the SAT subject tests—and standardized admissions tests in general—are becoming less popular with students and colleges. At the same time, however, AP tests—also a big part of the College Board’s testing empire—are becoming more popular and commonplace at high schools across the country. Just like a business that drops its less popular products to focus on its bestsellers, the College Board likely decided that it should focus its resources on the general test and AP exams.

The Optional Essay portion of the SAT has also been losing popularity, and many schools no longer require it. The College Board “recognizes that there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing” in its decision to drop the option.

So what does this mean for test takers?

On the surface, these changes should give college applicants less to worry about. They likely won’t significantly alter the college application process because most schools did not emphasize the subject tests and SAT essay, and the most prestigious colleges already expect applicants to take AP classes. If more emphasis is placed on AP tests, however, that might increase pressure for students to do well on exams that are generally more rigorous and comprehensive than the subject tests. Since many students take the bulk of their AP classes during senior year, a greater emphasis on AP may drive students to take more AP classes during sophomore or junior year so that students have scores and grades to submit before their college applications are due. It’s also possible that colleges will seek out additional methods of testing language skills, as some students who grow up speaking a language besides English have used the language subject test to fulfill their college’s language requirement.

If you’re currently a high school student, these are likely welcome changes, as you can now free up some days you might have spent testing and practicing for the SAT essay. Check out our blog SAT Test Prep: What you need to know for your SAT test preparation and Good SAT Score: Tips on how to improve score for expert test prep advice.

If you’re looking to boost your application in other ways, you should consider adding AP classes and exams if you are interested in the subject(s) and are confident you can handle the challenge. (Don’t miss our blog post 6 Expert Study Tips for Your AP Exams for helpful guidance!) Dropping the number of application requirements means that grades will count even more than before, so you don’t want to take on a more demanding course load than you can handle. If you were scheduled to take a subject test this spring, the best course of action might be to relax and enjoy a well-deserved morning off!

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