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2021 Changes to the SAT

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Covid-19 has changed the landscape of standardized testing with two-thirds of the country’s universities NOT requiring the SAT or ACT in the 2020-2021 application cycle.  The test-optional trend that began to accommodate student needs in a difficult time is just the beginning of a new wave of changes coming to the standardized testing industry.  

Beginning spring 2021 the SAT will no longer offer optional exams including the SAT Essay and SAT Subject Test.  While schools all across the country have been going test-optional to accommodate students’ needs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic the College Board, parent company to the SAT, is trying to keep up with current academic trends.   When asked why they are discontinuing these tests the College Board responded “We’re reducing demands on students. The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know”.   

Many people hoped for an online exam from the ACT or SAT this year but neither company was able to accommodate this need.  While the  ACT’s website notes that an online version is currently in development there is no update regarding the SAT’s transition to a digital platform.  

What You Need to Know

While this will be a great relief to many, some students may get caught up in the logistics of what to do.  When in doubt always contact your prospective colleges to stay up to date with ever-changing requirements.   Here are some key facts regarding the new 2021 SAT changes:  

SAT Subject Test

  • The optional SAT Subject Tests will no longer be offered to students in the United States.  The College Board will automatically cancel and refund fees to students currently registered for this test
  • The optional SAT Subject Tests will still be offered abroad through June 2021 and discontinued thereafter.

SAT Essay

  • The optional SAT Essay will be offered through June 2021. 
  • The optional SAT Essay will still be offered in states that require students to complete this portion of the exam of SAT School Day Administrations.  
  • Students who have registered for the optional SAT Essay may contact the College Board or login in through their portal to cancel this test if they wish.  No penalty fees will be charged.   

In the past,  many elite universities required students to take up to three  SAT Subject Tests as part of the first-year application.  The bulk of these tests were geared towards STEM students to ensure readiness within these rigorous programs. This trend has slowly disappeared over the last decade with the rise of AP testing which makes the subject test redundant for many who have scored well on AP exams.   The redundancy of the optional SAT Essay is also seen in the personal statement or “Essay Prompt” in the Common App and the Coalition.

Alternative Ways to Share Subject Knowledge and Keen Writing Skills

  • Crush the Common App/Coalition Essay 
  • Submit writing samples and/or published work as part of your application
  • Take college-level classes in areas of academic interest 
  • Submit AP exam scores

Moving Forward

Moving forward will these standardized tests become a thing of the past?  Will the test-optional and test blind policies exist when the pandemic is over?  The University of California, one of the largest collegiate systems in the country, maybe giving us a glimpse into the future of admissions requirements.   The school voted in 2020 to permanently phase out standardized testing.   We may be able to learn a new and fairer way to evaluate students from the University of California’s revolutionary changes.   While the new application cycle will have a leaner version of the SAT,  it’s not going away for good just yet for the rest of us.   

Fairtest.Org, a longtime advocate of holistic evaluation benefiting students of all backgrounds.  This non-profit organization is one of the best resources to learn more about the bias within standardized testing and alternative evaluation proposals.   They have been a huge proponent of test-bling and test-optional policies keeping tabs on the 1600 schools that did not require official ACT or SAT test scores during the 2020-2021 application cycle. 

Tips and Links 

  • Students attending SAT School Day Administrations in states that require the SAT Essay should check with their school to see if it will be included    
  • Students applying to schools that require the SAT Essay should check in with individual institutions to learn revised requirements  
  • Check the SAT Test Center Closing webpage and emails the day before and the morning of your test.   This is particularly important for those students traveling 
  • Upcoming SAT dates