SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay
Are Canceled

College Board has announced a huge shift in priority and resources. Read here to learn more about the admissions ramifications of these decisions.


If you haven’t heard, College Board announced today (1/19/2021) that it will cancel all future administrations of SAT Subject Tests and will eliminate the SAT Essay section. This represents the end of a testing program that has been around since 1937 and reflects a major shift in priority for College Board. Ostensibly, College Board had a rough year dealing with COVID and was forced to find ways to cut costs. In addition, SAT Subject tests have been declining in popularity for decades now, and so College Board has decided to invest more into the AP testing program, which has been much more popular recently and has some overlap with SAT Subject Tests in content. 

For future college applicants, this decision effectively eliminates SAT Subject Tests from consideration and will make AP tests more important than ever before. While AP Tests were originally created to give students college credit and to challenge advanced high school students, these tests are now going to become one of the last remaining statistical markers that applicants can point to on their college applications to demonstrate academic success. AP Tests should now be considered a great way to demonstrate academic success in academic subjects, in particular, mathematics.  Here are answers to some questions that you might have related to these decisions. 

Why did College Board make the change?

While they will most assuredly claim that this decision was made to further equal access to higher education, there are also some practical business interests in canceling these programs. It’s no surprise that the COVID pandemic has put pressure on the fault lines of many traditional institutions and College Board was no exception. We know that despite College Board’s nonprofit status, it’s a profit-driven organization that is concerned with losing market share to the ACT. 

With lower revenues in 2020, these decisions are simply just smart business decisions for them. The SAT Subject Tests have been declining in popularity for years now, yet their costs for research and development of new tests and the administration of these exams each year have remained the same. For the SAT Essay, any competent counselor would have told you not to worry about taking it for a while now. College Board is simply doing what any corporation would due in a time of recession – downsizing it’s workforce. 

Instead, College Board will most likely invest more resources into the AP Testing Program. The AP program has been one of their most successful programs from a registration standpoint and overlaps with the SAT Subject Test Program in a number of academic areas. We expect College Board to expand its reach in offering AP courses to more school districts and additional subjects. We also expect them to address criticisms of their claims of “universal availability” of AP Exams by making it easier for students to register for these exams.

How can I stand out as a STEM student now?

The Math II exam was by far the most popular SAT Subject Test, often mentioned as “highly recommended” by competitive admissions offices for STEM or business programs because many competitive mathematics students receive perfect scores on the SAT/ACT math sections. Tests like AP Calculus AB/BC will now be somewhat more important in the college admissions process. For STEM students applying to competitive schools, we now believe, more than ever, that it will be important to take the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 or 12 exams to further stand out from the pack in math achievement. These exams are held twice a year, usually in January or February, and can be taken by anyone who signs up for them. Oftentimes, schools register students for the exam through a Math Honors Society or Mu Alpha Theta Club.

“For future college applicants, this decision effectively eliminates SAT Subject Tests from consideration and will make AP tests more important than ever before”

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When will colleges release policies regarding SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay?

Besides a small minority of colleges (looking at your Georgetown), the vast majority of admissions offices have been reducing the importance of these exams on blogs and on their admissions websites. This announcement by College Board is essentially just the nail in the coffin, so we don’t expect it to take schools very long to update their policies on accepting Subject Test scores. We imagine that Subject Tests will still be somewhat relevant this upcoming test cyclem, especially for international student admissions, but beyond 2021, they will be completely ignored by colleges and universities. 

For some programs that have emphasized Subject Tests as ways to improve an application, in particular for US students applying abroad to schools in the UK or international students applying to US programs, we expect them to take a little longer in updating their policies regarding SAT Subject Tests. As we mentioned before, AP exams might represent a good alternative for these types of programs.

What if I have not yet taken the AP exams?

Completing AP exams at the end of junior year is now more valuable than it was previously. A good score on an AP exam is the best alternative at this time. However, if you will not take your AP exams until the end of your senior year, consider that your grades in these courses will represent your competence in a given subject.

What should international and home school students do?

For international students, the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests represents a loss in opportunity to stand out with scores in an extremely competitive environment. International testing locations will administer SAT Subject Test through June 2021, but will sunset the program after that. It is our recommendation the international students try to take their SAT subject tests this year before the program disappears, if possible. Going forward, colleges will announce particular metrics that they are looking for in international candidates. 

For homeschoolers, who have traditionally relied on Subject tests to demonstrate proficiency, no particular viable alternative has been presented. We will update our information as more becomes available. 

What if I am already signed up for the exam?

If you are in the US and you are signed up for the Subjects exam already, work with College Board directly to arrange a refund. If you are an international student, the tests are still available through June 2021.

In sum, this is a rapidly changing situation. Check back frequently for the latest, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the loop.

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