Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jan 19, 2021

The College Board has announced that it will drop the SAT essay and will no longer administer the SAT subject tests. The recent upheavals to SAT/ACT testing due to the pandemic, as well as a de-emphasis on the SAT essay and SAT subject tests by many colleges have factored into the decision.

The New York Times has the story:


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.

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

A follow-up article from the New York Times has additional information and commentary on the College Board announcements.


...the College Board said the subject tests have been eclipsed by the rise of Advanced Placement exams. At one point, A.P. courses were seen as the province of elite schools, but the board said on Tuesday that “the expanded reach of A.P. and its widespread availability for low-income students and students of color means the subject tests are no longer necessary.”

More than 22,000 schools offered A.P. courses in the 2019-20 school year, up from more than 13,000 two decades earlier, according to the College Board. There are some 24,000 public high schools in America.

The College Board said it would discontinue the essay section on the main SAT test because “there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing,” including, it said, the test’s reading and writing portion. The essay section was introduced in 2005, and was considered among the most drastic changes to the SAT in decades. It came amid a broader overhaul of the test, which included eliminating verbal analogies that were a mainstay of SAT-prep courses.

The College Board acknowledged that the coronavirus had played a role in the changes announced on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the pandemic had “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce the demands on students.”

But David Coleman, the chief executive of the College Board, a nonprofit organization that in the past has reported more than $1 billion a year in revenue, said that financial concerns were not behind the decisions, and that despite the growing number of schools making the SAT optional, demand for the test was still “stronger than some would expect.”

Some experts, though, said eliminating the subject matter tests could have the opposite effect, increasing pressure on students to take A.P. courses and exams, especially in their junior year, so credits can be submitted in time for college admissions decisions.

Saul Geiser, a senior associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, said the move would “worsen the perverse emphasis on test prep and test-taking skills at the expense of regular classroom learning.”

Mr. Geiser said that mastering writing skills and subject matter “is the best predictor of how students perform in college.”

Experts in college preparation said the announcement, while a major change, was partly just a recognition of a shifting environment for standardized testing. Jonathan Richard Burdick, vice president for enrollment at Cornell, said the “handwriting was on the wall for both the subject exams and the essay option long before the pandemic struck.”

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has written an article about the College Board announcements.


The College Board on Tuesday announced that it is killing the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT essay. Most experts said the College Board had little choice but to make the changes.

The board also announced plans to create "a more flexible SAT -- a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education." But the board did not release additional details on the new SAT.

Reaction to the College Board's announcement was varied.

Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, has pushed for colleges to drop testing requirements. He said, "Any move towards simplification and removing hurdles for students in this process is a step in the right direction."

A longtime critic of the College Board said via email that the board is just acknowledging what economics have made inevitable.

"The number of colleges and universities requiring either the SAT Essay or Subject Tests was rapidly declining pre-pandemic and was essentially zero in the current admissions cycle," said the critic, Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. "As a result, registration volumes for both exams were plunging. After significant revenue losses from multiple rounds of test cancellations over the past 10 months, it made no financial sense to continue trying to pitch its ever-less-popular products."

Over all, it seems safe to say neither colleges nor students will be disappointed by the departures of the SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay, said Isaac Botier, executive director of college admissions programs at Kaplan.

"For college applicants, this shift allows them to focus more on the tests that can help them secure college credit and win merit-based aid, which are the AP exams," Botier said. "And a strong SAT score remains an effective way for applicants to distinguish themselves in what continues to be a competitive college admissions process.”

A committee at the University of California has recommended that the UC system consider using the Smarter Balanced exams instead of developing a new admissions test by 2025. EdSource offers detailed coverage of the news.


After doing away with the SAT and ACT in freshman admissions, the University of California should not develop its own standardized test or use any other standardized exam as an admissions requirement, a key university committee has recommended.

Instead, the committee says UC should explore giving students the option to submit their 11th grade Smarter Balanced exams, the state’s annual standardized tests, for consideration when applying for admission to the system’s nine undergraduate campuses.

The committee determined that the Smarter Balanced exam would be an improvement from the SAT and ACT because unlike those exams, the Smarter Balanced test assesses curriculum that is aligned with standards being taught in the state’s public schools and with other UC admission requirements.

The proposal, which will be in front of the UC Board of Regents next week for discussion, is far from being final. Even if it is implemented, it would not go into effect for several years and the test would need to be modified for use in admissions.

Baylor University has announced that applicants for the fall classes of 2022 and 2023 will not have to submit SAT/ACT scores.


Last spring, the university announced its Fall 2021 admissions cycle would be test-optional due COVID-19 limiting SAT and ACT testing availability.

Around half of Baylor's Fall 2021 incoming freshman class applied without standardized test scores but "with a continued strong academic profile."

"To assist prospective students and their families, Baylor will confidently continue the test-optional policy for both incoming Fall 2022 and Fall 2023 students and reevaluate for future years," said Mary Herridge, senior director of undergraduate admissions at Baylor.