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College Board scraps SAT optional essay and subject tests amid COVID-19

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The subject tests will still be offered for international students, but only for two more sessions — in May and June 2021. Source: Ulises Ruiz/AFP

The College Board is discontinuing the SAT Subject Tests and optional essays due to COVID-19 concerns. “The pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students,” said the board in a statement on Tuesday (Jan. 19, 2021). “We are no longer offering the Subject Tests and discontinuing the optional SAT Essay in the US. Students in the US will automatically have their registrations cancelled and receive a refund.”

The subject tests will still be offered for international students, but only for two more sessions in May and June 2021 for international locations because the tests “are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes”. The optional SAT essay section, which was introduced in 2005, will be discontinued after the testing dates in June because “there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing,” the College Board said. “After June 2021, the essay will only be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day administrations for accountability purposes. Students registered for the SAT with essay this spring can cancel the essay portion at any time, free of charge.”


The College Board is also investing in a more flexible SAT — a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education. “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead. We are committed to making the SAT a more flexible tool, and we are making substantial investments to do so.” The board will be consulting their K12 and higher education members and will share details later this spring.

Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California system are among the schools that have dropped their SAT and ACT requirements for the year, with the UC system suspending them until at least 2024. The entrance exams were already in decline before the pandemic; over two million students signed up to take the SAT last year but only 900,000 actually took the test, the College Board told The Washington Post.

College Board chief executive David Coleman said that the organisation is not pursuing an at-home version of the exam and that more information will be shared in April 2021.The SAT, or “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” is a common entrance exam used by most US colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. It is also recognised by universities in the UK and Australia. The test evaluates students’ written, verbal and mathematical skills on a score from 400 to 1600. There are two main types: SAT 1 is for general admission to an undergraduate course, while SAT 2 is focused on subjects for admission into a particular course.

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