Does the SAT II Subject Test Still Exist?

Posted on 21st January 2021


The College Board has just announced some significant changes that will affect students taking the SAT and Subject Tests with almost immediate effect. They are:

  • The end of the SAT essay from June 2021
  • Disbandment of the Subject Tests after June 2021
  • A commitment to ‘digital’ testing

End of the SAT Essay

The SAT essay has been optional since 2016, the last time the SAT was overhauled. Since then, fewer and fewer colleges have required it, though we always advised our students to write it just in case. Only about half of SAT test takers worldwide wrote the essay last year, and what with most colleges moving to being test optional (more on that later) the College Board have now decided it’s not worth including it anymore. The last time students outside of the US will be able to write it is May 2021. At UES, we think this is a good thing: the test is long enough as it is (3 hours without the essay) and a disproportionate amount of time was spent preparing students for the essay when it was debateable how much impact it would have on their chances of admission.

Our recommendation: Students should write the essay if they’ve already been practising it and planning on doing the March or May tests.

Our prediction: The ACT will also get rid of their optional essay this year, and in any case colleges won’t require it any more, as it would disadvantage SAT takers.

End of the SAT Subject Tests

The Subject Tests in the US have been cancelled effective immediately, but international students can still take them in May and June 2021. After that they’ll be gone for good. These tests were used by students to demonstrate academic ability in addition to the SAT/ACT and their normal school grades. Until 2020, they were required or strongly recommended at some top colleges like MIT, Caltech, and Georgetown. However, these requirements were dropped in 2020 due to the pandemic, but other colleges were already de-emphasising these tests in admissions even before this. The total number of Subject Test takers had been dropping for several years. At UES, we think the end of these tests is also a good thing. These tests were a heavy burden on even the most able students, and it was difficult to know when to start preparing for them. The only downside for students applying to the US is that they might have fewer opportunities to show breadth of curriculum if their A-Level or IB choices are quite narrow.

Our recommendations: Most students should no longer bother preparing for the Subject Tests. If you’re booked into a Subject Test, you can cancel it for a refund via the College Board. However, if a student needs Subject Tests to apply to colleges outside the US this year, they should do what they can to take the tests in May and June just in case. Additionally, students who want to show broader knowledge over and above their schoolwork (say English or History, when they’re only doing Maths and Sciences at A-Level) might decide to take the Subject Test in May or June but only if they have already got good SAT/ACT scores, and only if it won’t interfere with their schoolwork. There are other ways of demonstrating academic ability and intellectual curiosity to US colleges: AP exams, for example, or attending courses run by universities.

Our prediction: Students will look for other ways to show off their academic abilities, but there won’t be restrictive requirements for these at any US colleges.

Digital Testing

The College Board says it is committed to a more flexible, digital test. They have said that this does not mean at-home testing, but rather a test-centre and school-based approach, similar to the ACT. We have few details as to what this test will look like, but it seems likely the format will remain the same and that students will simply be able to take this test on a computer instead of paper. This change has been inevitable for a long time, ever since the ACT and other tests moved to a digital format. Done correctly, it could open up access to more students. It’s a shame that at-home testing isn’t yet on the schedule, as that would make things much easier for students (just as it has for the GMAT, GRE and others).

Our recommendation: If you’re taking the SAT, keep practising and preparing as normal, as the format is unlikely to change significantly.

Our predictions: Digital testing won’t be rolled out until at least September 2021, likely later. At-home testing will happen (likely for both the SAT and ACT) but not until 2022.

Contact us if you need any help choosing or preparing for tests.

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