The College Board, which administers the SAT, APs, and SAT Subject Tests, recently announced that they will no longer offer the SAT Subject Tests, and the optional SAT essay will be phased out after June 2021. These changes certainly impact your college application strategy, but maybe not in the ways you might think.
Neither of these announcements is really big news. SAT Subject Tests were losing steam with fewer students taking them - registration had dropped nearly 50% from its 2005 high, and very few colleges required the SAT Essay section.
Dropping the Subject Tests - which were called “SAT IIs” when many of us took them - only matters because it will push more students to take the APs, which are also administered by the College Board. This is the right thing to do for most students, especially those who excel in a certain subject or are taking AP/IB classes. The benefit here is that test scheduling will be easier than in the past, since the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests were administered on many of the same dates. Seats in testing centers that had been used for Subject Tests will now be available for the regular SAT.
The optional essay section of the SAT was added to the test in 2005. In 2020, a little over half of SAT test takers took the essay section. Its removal will make the test easier for many students simply because the exam will be shorter; however, students who are strong in English and writing will have to find other ways to demonstrate these skills to colleges.
The bottom line is that students who achieve strong scores on any of the standardized tests - SAT, ACT, or APs - absolutely should take the tests and submit the scores to colleges. Why? Because showing colleges a strong score will help you get in.
This is true whether or not the school has a test-optional policy. News about the ‘test-optional’ concept has been confusing, but a strong score helps nonetheless. COVID has reduced the type and amount of information about a student that admissions officers can consider. After all, many sports seasons have been cancelled, theater and musical events delayed, and some classes have moved to pass-fail grading. This puts more weight on the parts of the application students can include, in particular GPA, essays, and recommendations. If you don’t submit an SAT or ACT score, the rest of the application must be really, really strong in order to stand out in a competitive applicant pool.
Data for the 2021 admissions season shows that more and more kids are applying to college: NYU received over 100,000 applications this fall for the first time ever, a 20% increase. Harvard nearly doubled its applicants this year, and the UC system received more than a quarter-million applications. College admissions are more competitive than ever.
In order to know whether you have a strong score, you first have to take the test. Free practice tests are a great way to determine where you stand and if you need help. Juniors should plan to take an official SAT and/or ACT in March, May, or June. Waiting until the summer or the fall for an initial test is a bad idea in most cases because it limits the opportunities to take the tests. A lot of evidence exists behind the benefit of testing multiple times. By waiting until the fall, if you’re sick or just have a bad day, you might not have another chance.
This process can be confusing. We can help. Reach out to us to talk about which tests your child should take and the best way to prepare.
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