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2021 SAT Changes And What They Mean For Students

On Tuesday, College Board announced major changes to its product offerings, including an end to SAT Subject Tests and an end to the SAT’s optional essay.

Below are answers to some of the most common questions we have been receiving from parents and students.

Exactly what changes are being made?

The immediate changes relate to SAT Subject Tests and to the SAT’s optional essay component.

College Board has announced the immediate discontinuation of Subject Tests in the US market. All future US administrations have been canceled, and students who have already registered for upcoming tests will receive refunds. College Board has further announced that there will be two future administrations of SAT Subject Tests outside the US – in May and June 2021 – after which Subject Tests will be completely and permanently discontinued.

College Board has also announced that it is retiring the SAT’s optional essay component. Students can still register to take the essay through the June 2021 administration within the US (or the May 2021 administration outside the US), but after June 2021, the essay will also be effectively discontinued.

Why are these changes being made?

It depends on whom you ask.

According to College Board, the growth of the organization’s Advanced Placement (AP) program has made subject tests largely redundant, and the effectiveness of the SAT’s “Writing and Language” component renders the essay superfluous. College Board has branded these changes as an effort to “reduce and simplify demands on students.”

But many others suspect that College Board may have more practical motivations. The SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Essay have been on the decline for years, with fewer and fewer schools taking either measure into account in their admissions decisions. College Board therefore may simply be responding to a changing market, motivated more by financial considerations than by benevolence toward its client base.

What do these changes mean for my existing Subject Test or Essay scores?

Individual schools will determine for themselves whether to consider SAT Subject Test scores or SAT Essay scores in their admissions decisions.

My school does not offer AP classes or tests. Without AP test scores, will I have trouble applying to colleges and universities in the US, now that SAT Subject Tests are being discontinued?

No. American colleges and universities are well familiar with the various curricula offered by international schools in Thailand and by schools in Canada, the U.K., Australia, and elsewhere. Changes in College Board’s offerings will not affect these colleges’ and universities’ eagerness to welcome students who have demonstrated achievement through IB, A-Levels, or any alternatives.

What other changes are taking place?

College Board has announced that it is “investing in a more flexible SAT—a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education,” but specifics about this plan are scarce.

When is the digital SAT likely to launch?

College Board has not provided a timeframe, but changes of this magnitude tend to take years rather than months, with progress in the international market likely to trail progress in the US market. 

Will this be an online test that I can take at home?

No, or at least that does not seem to be the plan. The New York Times reports that the digital SAT “would be given at testing centers by live proctors,” presumably in much the same way that the ACT (the SAT’s competitor) is currently administered in Thailand. 

How should I prepare for this digital test?

You probably shouldn’t, at least not at this point. Until College Board provides an actual time frame, assume that you will be taking the SAT on paper.

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