SAT Subject Tests Are Cancelled: What That Means for You

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In January 2021, the College Board announced the cancellation of SAT Subject Tests and the optional essay section of the SAT for college-bound students in the United States. These tests will be discontinued internationally after June 2021. In the announcement, the College Board explained, “The pandemic accelerated a process already underway…to reduce and simplify demands on students.”

Reduced and simplified demands sound great, but what do all of these changes mean for you and your college applications? Keep reading to find out!

What are the SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests are college admissions exams focused on specific subjects. They allow students to showcase their strengths, especially in areas of interest. Each test is an hour long, and all questions are multiple choice. The tests are scored on a 200-800 scale.

The SAT Subject Tests include:

  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2
  • Biology E/M
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • English
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • Chinese with Listening
  • Italian
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Latin
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening

Prior to the College Board announcement, only a few schools required SAT Subject Tests. Some recommended that applicants take the SAT Subject Tests, while others were willing to consider them in admissions decisions.

Why were the SAT Subject Tests important?

If you were planning to take an SAT Subject Test(s) to strengthen your college applications, you might find this news stressful or worrisome. Take comfort in the fact that SAT Subject Tests were never one of the most significant parts of the application. Only a handful of schools required them, and very few schools even recommended them.

Of course, many schools were willing to consider SAT Subject Tests when reviewing applications. For some students, these tests were an important way to highlight areas of strength not adequately covered by the regular SAT. Other students used SAT Subject Tests to show off unique skills, like being fluent in Hebrew or Chinese.

Ultimately, the SAT Subject Tests provided an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other students and showcase your abilities. Fortunately, college applications present many other ways to accomplish these goals.

Why did the College Board cancel the SAT Subject Tests?

The College Board listed several reasons for cancelling the SAT Subject Tests.

Limiting Demands

As mentioned above, one reason was to limit the demands placed on high school students, especially during the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the pandemic, test dates have been frequently postponed or cancelled, leaving students scrambling to complete required exams. Dropping the Subject Tests means students have fewer exams to worry about. The College Board also plans to allocate seats that would have gone to students taking the Subject Tests to students who still need to take the regular SAT.

Additionally, many colleges have taken measures to alleviate student stress by eliminating exam requirements and/or extending deadlines. It makes sense for the College Board to follow suit.

Other Ways to “Show What You Know”

Next, the College Board mentioned that the expanded availability of AP tests means Subject Tests “are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.” Similarly, the College Board stated, the optional Essay component of the SAT is unnecessary because “there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing.”

In recent years, SAT Subject Tests have become less and less popular as more colleges have stopped requiring or recommending them. Schools are trying to make the college application process easier and more accessible, and many students don’t have the time, transportation, money, or family support to take an excessive number of exams. Colleges can get a solid understanding of a student’s academic ability based on transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, and IB/AP exams.

With the popularity of SAT Subject Tests waning, it’s likely a smart business decision for the College Board to move forward without them.

Developing a More Flexible SAT

Finally, the College Board plans to invest more resources into developing a more flexible SAT, described as “a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education.”

Moving forward, the College Board is focused on becoming more innovative and adaptive. Students still need the SAT as a way to show their strengths to colleges, but the College Board wants to find more flexible, student-centered ways of doing so. Reducing the number of College Board tests frees up more time and money for investing in this new endeavor.

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Will I get a refund for the SAT Subject Tests that I registered for?

Yes. If you registered for an SAT Subject Test in the United States that is now cancelled, you don’t need to take any action. The College Board will automatically cancel your registration and send you a full refund.

If you’ve already spent time studying for the Subject Test, you may feel disappointed or frustrated. Keep in mind that you still sharpened your knowledge of a subject you’ll need in college. Plus, you had an opportunity to practice your study skills—something else you’ll definitely need in college.

When will the last SAT Subject Test be?

In the United States, no more SAT Subject Tests will be administered. For students in international locations, however, there will be two more administrations in May and June of 2021. This is because the Subject Tests are used for a wider range of purposes internationally.

If you are an international student who no longer wants to take the Subject Test, you may call College Board’s customer service and cancel your registration for a full refund.

Will colleges accept the SAT Subject Tests I already took?

Most likely. According to the College Board, member schools have been contacted. It’s up to the individual schools whether and how they will consider an applicant’s SAT Subject Test scores.

Schools don’t like to penalize you for circumstances beyond your control, and you took the Subject Test with no idea that it would later be cancelled. It’s likely that most colleges who previously considered Subject Test scores will still review and consider your scores this year. For more specific information, contact the schools you’re applying to and ask how they will handle SAT Subject Test scores.

What if a college I’m interested in requires/recommends SAT Subject Tests?

Very few colleges continue to require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. If a school you’re interested in applying to is an exception, don’t worry. They will have to drop the recommendation or requirement, since any student who hasn’t already taken an SAT Subject Test will be unable to complete it.

If you’ve already taken a Subject Test(s), they’re likely to still consider it, as mentioned above. The good news is that if you’re unhappy with your score, you no longer need to include it on any of your college applications. And if you are happy with your score, you may still be able to get a small boost out of it.

Will colleges accept the SAT Essay I already wrote?

Like the SAT Subject Tests, it will be up to individual schools how they want to handle the SAT Essay moving forward. Again, most schools will probably be willing to consider your score if you’ve already written the Essay. (Of course, this is not true for colleges who have never considered the Essay.)

Students can still take the SAT with Essay through June 2021. After that, it will only be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day administrations. If you’re currently registered for the SAT with Essay, you can cancel the Essay portion free of charge at any time.

Does cancelling the SAT Subject Tests make the regular SAT more important?

Yes. With fewer exams to showcase your abilities, the exams you still have become more important. This is especially true of the SAT, which has always played a major role in the college admissions process.

With the SAT sure to carry more weight in the future, you may want to invest more time in studying and increasing your score as much as possible.

Does cancelling the SAT Subject Tests make AP classes and exams more important?

AP classes and exams will also become more important with the cancellation of the SAT Subject Tests. AP/IB exams are the closest alternative to Subject Tests, since they are also standardized exams focused on specific subject areas.

Many Subject Tests even have an AP/IB equivalent, including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English Literature, U.S. History, and World History. There are also AP exams for most of the languages covered by the Subject Tests, with the exception of Korean and Modern Hebrew.

AP/IB exams have already become more important than SAT Subject Tests in recent years, so this trend will only continue. These exams are now your primary way to highlight specific strengths, especially those not tested by the regular SAT.

Does cancelling the SAT Essay make college application essays more important?

Yes, your college application essays are now more important too. They give colleges insight into your writing skills that may once have come from the SAT Essay.

Plus, now that colleges have fewer data points to consider, selective schools will likely place increased emphasis on the subjective parts of your application, primarily the essay. Take extra time and effort with your essays, and be sure to have a second, third, or even fourth pair of eyes review your work.

Who benefits from the cancellation of the SAT Subject Tests?

For some students, the cancellation of the SAT Subject Tests is highly beneficial. If you aren’t a strong test-taker, for example, this change is good news for you. Additionally, the cancellation benefits students who perform better on the regular SAT, which now becomes more important.

It’s also helpful if you’re on a college application time crunch and weren’t sure how you’d fit Subject Tests into your busy schedule.

Of course, some students may still feel disappointed or worry that these changes put them at a disadvantage. Below, we’ll highlight what you can do now if you’re a freshman, sophomore, or junior to offset the Subject Test cancellation.

What should freshmen do now that SAT Subject Tests are cancelled?

If you’re a freshman, you have plenty of time to take AP or IB classes and tests as alternatives to the SAT Subject Tests. Consider your strengths, then enroll in rigorous classes that will help you showcase them to colleges. As a freshman, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take a couple of AP classes now and see how it goes, then enroll in more in the future if you’re ready. You should also use AP classes as a way to show that you’re well-rounded and have the ability to excel in multiple areas.

Next, begin strengthening the subjective portions of your college resume. Participate in extracurricular activities in your areas of strength and interest. Pursue leadership roles when possible. Similarly, work on honing your writing skills and building strong relationships with teachers at your school.

Eventually, you’ll need to prioritize studying for the SAT. For now, simply pay attention in your classes, take notes, and don’t be afraid to ask for extra help and support in subjects you find challenging.

What should sophomores do now that SAT Subject Tests are cancelled?

Like freshmen, you should take AP/IB classes and put significant effort into studying for your exams. Continue to pursue extracurricular activities and leadership roles. Build your writing skills and develop positive relationships with teachers.

Study for the PSAT 10 if it’s offered at your school, and use the information in your score report to start thinking about how you’ll approach studying for the SAT. Remember that these new changes mean your AP/IB classes, extracurricular involvement, essays, recommendation letters, and regular SAT have become more important.

What should juniors do now that SAT Subject Tests are cancelled?

Keep taking AP/IB classes, particularly in areas of strength you hoped to emphasize with SAT Subject Tests. Stick with the extracurriculars you’re already involved in, or add more if you haven’t been very involved up to this point. Seek leadership roles, which should be easier to obtain now that you have some level of seniority.

Focus on building positive relationships with your teachers. The teachers you have during junior year are the best choices to write your recommendation letters, since they’ve taught you most recently and for a full academic year (unlike your senior year teachers).

Start thinking about your college application essay, and consider enrolling in a college essay bootcamp. Similarly, study in earnest for the PSAT. Use the score report to create a personalized SAT study plan, and take your first official SAT as soon as you feel ready. It’s best to take your first SAT before the end of your fall semester junior year.

Plan to take the SAT two or three times total to get the highest score possible. Of course, it’s only useful to take the test again if you use your first experience to gain information about areas of weakness and make improvements. Get extra support from an SAT tutor or test preparation course if you’re unhappy with your initial score and unsure how to make significant gains.

Will the SAT Subject Tests ever come back?

The College Board has not indicated any plans to renew SAT Subject Tests in the future. Of course, things could change depending on how students and colleges adjust to the latest College Board updates.

With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind that policy changes may come and go over the next several months. We’ll be here to make sure you stay informed about any future changes and how they impact you.

Final Thoughts: SAT Subject Tests Are Cancelled

The College Board will no longer administer SAT Subject Tests or the optional Essay portion of the regular SAT. Subject Tests are cancelled in the U.S. effective immediately, while international students will have until June 2021 to take them. The SAT with Essay is available until June 2021. After that, it will only be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day administrations.

These changes were a response to changing needs due to the pandemic. The College Board wanted to reduce demands on students, and it also reasoned that AP exams provide another way for students to showcase their subject-specific strengths and skills.

If you’ve already registered for a Subject Test, your registration will be cancelled, and you’ll receive a refund. You can take the Essay portion of the SAT through June, but you’re also free to cancel it any time at no cost. If you’ve already taken the Subject Test or the Essay, colleges may still consider it this year. To be sure, you’ll need to contact the colleges you’re interested in and ask, since it will be up to each school individually.

Ultimately, these changes will add more weight to other portions of your application, including the SAT, AP/IB exams, and the college application essay. Study harder, get more support if you need it, and remember to put plenty of time and effort into these elements of the application.

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