College Board Modifies SAT Amid Pandemic

College Board Modifies SAT Amid Pandemic
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By Tyler Epps

Published on February 2, 2021

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On January 19, the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced it would be removing the optional essay component from the SAT, as well as the supplementary subject-specific exams, more commonly known as SAT Subject Tests. The organization also revealed that it plans to invest in a "streamlined, digitally delivered [SAT]" to provide better access and flexibility for students.

In less than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused extraordinary disruptions to the college admissions process, forcing the College Board to continuously update testing policies and procedures. While discussions to further simplify the SAT have persisted for some time, the organization cited the pandemic for expediting these major changes.

Here, we offer a detailed look at the SAT changes students can expect to see.

Optional SAT Essay Will Be Eliminated

Since its introduction in 2005, the 50-minute SAT essay section, which was only recently made optional in 2016, has been one of the more contested components of the exam. While some admissions experts favored the decision to add a writing section, others argued that the length requirement and time restriction made it an ineffective measure of students' writing and editing skills.

Now, in the midst of students' and colleges' constantly changing needs, the College Board has made the decision to discontinue the essay altogether, deeming both the SAT Reading and Writing and Language sections as "the most effective and predictive parts of the SAT."

Students who are currently registered to take the SAT with the optional essay can still take the test through June 2021.

SAT Subject Tests Will Be Discontinued

SAT Subject Tests were optional, supplementary college admission exams that focused on specific subjects like U.S. history, math, and biology. Unlike other national standardized exams, students could actually choose which SAT Subject Tests to take based on their strengths, the colleges they were applying to, and their anticipated career paths.

Effective immediately, SAT Subject Tests will no longer be available to students testing in the U.S. (June 2021 for international students). This decision came amid the "expanded reach" of Advanced Placement tests, particularly toward low-income students and students of color. 

Students should check their colleges' websites for information regarding Subject Test policies.

A New Digital SAT Is on the Horizon

One of the more intriguing aspects of the College Board's announcement was the organization's investment in producing a "streamlined, digitally delivered test." Citing the importance of meeting "the evolving needs of students and higher education," the College Board reaffirmed its commitment to making the SAT a more accessible and flexible tool for students.

While the organization hasn't provided much detail about the upcoming digital SAT, its goal is to improve upon the previous digital version that was abandoned in June after several technical difficulties. For now, the College Board plans to consult education leaders, with hopes to release more information regarding the digital test later this spring.


Feature Image: smolaw / Shutterstock

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