On January 19, 2021, the College Board announced some changes to its Suite of Assessments. First and foremost, it’s ending the Subject Test program (that broad array of hour-long, single subject exams), effective immediately in the United States and after the June test date internationally. This is not a huge surprise as fewer and fewer colleges have been requiring Subject Tests. Now that they’ll no longer be part of the admissions equation, colleges will have fewer objective data points to consider. Going forward, SAT and ACT scores, along with AP scores, will become even more critical for high school students applying to college.
No longer having to prepare or sit for Subject Tests, students will now have more latitude in planning their testing calendars. In the past, high school juniors frequently had to defer taking a late spring SAT and instead set aside dates for Subject Tests in May or June. Students will now have additional opportunities to take the SAT and will have the flexibility to test later in their junior year should they so choose.
As the Subject Tests exit the scene, the AP exams’ star is on the rise. Though not technically required by colleges, AP exams have been the de facto replacement for Subject Tests for quite a while. As the College Board notes, more students are taking AP exams every year, so we can expect more pressure to take AP courses and likely more emphasis on AP exam scores.
Secondly, and less consequential, the College Board is discontinuing the optional SAT Essay. This hastily-scored, 50-minute addendum to the test has been on its way out for years, as fewer and fewer colleges and universities have required it. This is a welcome change that simplifies the testing process for students.
Lastly, the College Board has announced that it is investing in a more flexible SAT— “a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education.” We’ve expected the College Board to pursue digital testing for the last few years as the ACT prepares to launch its own digital version. Colleges weren’t ready to accept digital test scores in 2020, but 2021 will almost certainly bring a shift towards wider access and implementation of computer versions of the SAT and ACT, perhaps even in-home versions.
We believe that the changes announced by the College Board are favorable for high school students applying to college. We hope that with fewer scores to worry about, students will be able to efficiently navigate the testing process while allowing more time and energy for their academics, extracurriculars, and other important aspects of their lives.