College Board ditching optional essay on the SAT college entrance exam, among other changes

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The College Board, best known for the SAT college entrance exam and Advanced Placement exams for high school kids, will stop providing several assessments to  “reduce demands on students,” according to the company.

In an announcement Tuesday, the New York-based College Board said that it will discontinue the optional essay that comes with the SAT exam. It also will discontinue what’s called the SAT Subject Tests, which focus on specific subjects such as literature, U.S. History and foreign languages, among others.

“As students and colleges adapt to new realities and changes to the college admissions process, the College Board is making sure our programs adapt with them,” the statement from College Board said.

Students can still opt to take the SAT with the essay until June, according to its website. The Subject Tests will be available for international students until June, as well. But those who will not be taking these exams and have already registered for them can receive a full refund.

Bob Schaeffer is the interim Executive Director for FairTest, an advocacy group working to end the misuse of standardized testing. In a conversation with the Phoenix, he said that the College Board discontinued the SAT Essay and the SAT Subject Tests because they’re facing a revenue shortfall.

“The move reflects an economic reality,” Schaeffer told the Phoenix. “The College Board — like other companies that are facing tight economic times —consolidated its business by abandoning unpopular projects and trying to double down on its two primary revenue sources. And those are the main SAT and the AP exams.”

Institutions of higher education have been reassessing their relationships with standardized testing for college admissions, and a growing number of schools across the country have already opted out of requiring ACT and the SAT college entrance exams prior to the COVID pandemic. Other colleges and universities have temporarily practiced “test-optional” admissions in response to COVID-19.

Standardized tests are not free for many families. The SAT alone is $58 dollars unless you have a waiver. The SAT with Essay is $64, according to the College Board website.

Schaeffer thinks that these assessments did not provide much insight into how well a student performs.

“Neither cancelled test was very good from a measurement perspective,” Schaeffer said in a press release about the move. “The so-called ‘essay’ encouraged formulaic writing.”

In addition, “The Subject Tests were brief (one-hour) all multiple-choice exercises covering limited content, which encouraged coaching, memorization and regurgitation.”

The College Board notes that it will continue to monitor writing and editing skills through other portions of the SAT and that there are “other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing.”

“The tasks on the SAT Reading and Writing and Language sections are among the most effective and predictive parts of the SAT,” the College Board statement says.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.