What Does No More SAT Essay or Subject Tests Mean for You?



This week College Board released some major news with regards to future SAT exams: there will no longer be an Essay option after the June 2021 test, and there will no longer be any SAT Subject Tests in the U.S. (and only the May and June 2021 dates for international students).


These changes only further complicate the ever-evolving college admissions landscape during the covid pandemic. Fortunately, though, it is becoming clearer each day what college admissions officers will be focusing on most when they receive college applications in the next admissions cycle.


So, what exactly do these changes to the SAT and SAT Subject Tests mean for you?


1. Existing SAT Essay scores are not defunct, but they will likely carry less weight.


For those who do take an official SAT with the Essay (remember, they are still offered until June), your scores will not be null and void (unless a college explicitly states so), but admissions officers will understandably look to other data points since not all students will have the option to take an SAT with the Essay.


The removal of the Essay section should be a relief to any student who is starting SAT prep, since now you can focus your efforts on perfecting the composite score. In many cases, colleges don’t even require the Essay, although it has never hurt to submit high Essay scores. So focusing on the Reading, Writing, and Math sections will definitely be better for improving your admission chances. And, if you have the option to add (or cancel) the Essay, you should decline (or remove it) and focus on the core subjects instead.


2. You can no longer rely on SAT Subject Test scores to round out weak AP/IB performance.


The discontinuation of the SAT Subject Tests is not quite as rosy. The content of SAT Subject Tests typically overlapped with that of the AP/IB tests. If you had a poor or sub-par score for any of your AP/IB tests, then you could have taken the SAT Subject Test equivalent and still demonstrated proficiency (as long as you scored well, of course).


3. AP/IB tests will be highly important for contextualizing high school grades.


As always, grades/GPA are very important for college admissions, but admissions officers usually like to see how these subjective grades stack up against standardized benchmarks -- i.e., AP/IB exams.


Since there are no other tests that assess the same content areas as the AP/IB exams, you now will really have to buckle down and do your best on these tests, which will be what college admissions officers use to not only get the “standardized” context of your grades/GPA but also see if you are capable of writing essays at the college level.


It is highly, highly recommended that you get a head start with familiarizing yourself with the format and content areas of the AP/IB tests that you plan on taking this year. Not all teachers prepare their students equally, so you can’t necessarily rely on your AP/IB class to adequately get you ready for the test.


4. Basically, you need to do better on all available tests (SAT/ACT/AP/IB) to stand out.


The overall theme of these pandemic-era changes is that while colleges are becoming more flexible in the spirit of “test optional,” admissions officers still want to have some standardized data to back up all the subjective parts of your application.


Therefore, when possible, it is in your best interest to not only get good grades but also score well on AP/IB and SAT/ACT tests. Obviously doing well on “all of the above” is the ideal state, but you shouldn’t neglect the standardized tests if you have good grades.


Planning on taking the upcoming March SAT? Check out our March SAT Cram class, which has been updated to reflect the new realities of the SAT test.


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