By: Ben Sexton
Recently, College Board announced three major changes to their operations: the elimination of Subject Tests effective immediately, The elimination of the SAT essay after the June 2021 test, and the introduction of an online and possibly at-home version of the SAT. The first two changes, despite grabbing headlines, were minor and expected. The third change could revamp the entire testing landscape.
Subject Tests had been slowly losing importance in the college admissions process for years. In some cases, they were redundant with AP tests. In other cases, the tested material had drifted significantly out of line with the material in most corresponding school curriculums. Fewer and fewer colleges had been requiring them. With their guessing penalty, their scoring was obsolete. As a result of these weaknesses, their passing is good for students, because a potential layer of testing and stress has been removed. Students who may have excelled on Subject Tests can now focus solely on AP tests instead, which will overlap more closely with their classes in school.
The new SAT essay, despite providing some thought-provoking prompts, never got off the ground. Most colleges never required it, and it added 50 minutes at the end of an already arduous test. The grading system was opaque and frustrating, and College Board themselves admitted early on that their graders were struggling to apply the rubric consistently. The essay was another easy layer of testing to remove. Students already have ample opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills in their applications with applications essays, supplemental essays, and even graded essays from school. And, the essay wasn’t free, so students also save money with its elimination.
The online version of the SAT is a much bigger update, and more information is forthcoming in April. The expectation is that students will be able to take the SAT on computers at test centers – as is already the case for tests like GRE and GMAT – or at home. While an at-home test is obviously useful in times of corona for safety reasons, another large benefit would likely be many more test dates. When you combine ease of access to the test with a larger range of test dates, you’ve created a much easier experience for students who want to test. Technical glitches may exist, but College Board hopefully has had time to work through many of those glitches with their spring rollout of the online AP Tests.
In the big picture, testing is becoming less burdensome and easier to access. This is a win for all students. All three of these outcomes make the college admissions process simpler.