A Monumental Decision

Last month, the College Board announced its decision to drop the SAT Essay and SAT Subject Tests from its previously offered variety of assessments. Stating that this was an attempt to “simplify our work and reduce demands on students,” College Board stated that it would be discontinuing the essays and subject tests after June 2021. Students in the U.S. would receive a refund for the cancelled tests, while international students would be able to continue testing until May and June.

Predictability, students’ and parents’ reactions to this change were very widely varied. Many students who have already studied for and taken a subject test or an essay may understandably feel disappointed at the devaluement of their hard work, while students who have not had the opportunity to take the SAT exams yet might feel relieved that this is just one less stressful experience to prepare for. If colleges decide to consider SAT Essay and Subject Test scores regardless of their discontinuation, this could contrastingly create backlash from students without those scores, feeling that they should get a chance of a fair performance as well. Regardless of this decision is reversed or not, it is clear that any decision will dissatisfy a group.

Also, while this change in policy does, in part, accomplish the intended goal of reducing stress for students who may be feeling overwhelmed by the increased demands put on them, especially during quarantine, it also may seem unnecessary. Even though it might directly make things more simple for students applying to college during following years, removing the essay and, more importantly, the subject tests, might paradoxically cause more stress by cutting down on choices that a student could make in his or her application process and creating greater stress to do well on the only choice, the SAT. A Bellarmine student summed up the situation perfectly when he stated that “I think it makes things easier for students to focus on other aspects such as grades, AP tests, the main section of the SAT, and extra-curricular activities. But, it is a double-edged sword since there are now less opportunities to show your proficiency in various subjects.”

As always, simplicity, which has many positive aspects, is accompanied by its twin, uniformity. If students are not enabled to distinguish themselves from others by showing their achievements in various subjects, something that the SAT does not demonstrate, some fear that the college application process may be further reduced to a kind of number-assessment; by reducing the number of factors that determine eligibility, students’ performance may now depend more on a single score.

The College Board has partially quelled these anxieties by announcing that it would devote more attention to AP tests as an alternate method of expressing academic achievements for students. As the AP Test and the SAT Subject test both pertain to specific topics, this may seem like a viable alternative at the moment. However, some key differences present themselves immediately, namely some disparities between SAT Subject and AP Test material. For example, the SAT Math II test, the highest level of math offered, covers little beyond Geometry or Algebra. In stark contrast, Calculus and Statistics are the only math classes for which an AP-level class is offered at most schools.

Due to this, students who are not taking AP classes who would nevertheless like to demonstrate their skill in various subjects may find themselves at a bit of a loss during this time. However, one could say that the transition to AP classes may now offer an even greater variety of customization than the SAT Subject Tests did; the AP class list, which can be accessed at https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/course-index-page, provides an arguably more comprehensive list of courses than does the SAT Catalog.

For now, students and parents should wait for further information from the College Board about this matter, and simply try their hardest in the college application process.