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College Board drops SAT’s optional essay and subject tests to ‘reduce demands on students’

The College Board on Tuesday announced that it is discontinuing the optional essay section and subject-area exams of the SAT for college-bound U.S. students.

The coronavirus pandemic “accelerated a process already underway” to “simplify our work and reduce demands on students,” the standardized testing nonprofit said in a note to members.

Broader and more diverse access to AP courses, the College Board said, means the SAT subject tests like biology, physics and world history are “no longer necessary for students to show what they know.” SAT subject tests were optional, multiple-choice exams that students could take in order to demonstrate aptitude or standardized academic credentials on topics like Spanish language, biology and physics — all topics that are not included in the general SAT exam.

U.S. students registered for subject tests will be refunded, while the College Board will provide two final SAT subject test administrations in May and June 2021 for international locations because they “are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes.”

The optional SAT essay section, first introduced in 2005, will be discontinued after June 2021 testing dates in recognition that “there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing,” the College Board said.

After June 2021, the 800-point section will continue to be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day, which the College Board says is “a way to offer the SAT to juniors and seniors in school, on a weekday,” in a way that doesn’t conflict with after-school and weekend commitments and allows streamlined access to reduced price and low-income options for needy students. Other students who are registered for Spring 2021 can cancel for free at any time.

The essay section had a 15-year heyday — first introduced in 2005, the section raised the maximum SAT score from 1600 to 2400 and was a central part of many students’ college admissions applications for years. However, by 2020, several major institutions had made the section optional.

The College Board added that it is also working to make sure that the test can be “streamlined” and “digitally delivered” in the event that the pandemic “continues to impact testing this spring.”

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