top of page

The SAT Essay & Subject Tests Have Been Permanently Canceled: What That Means for You

The College Board has had a rough year.

The organization, which develops and administers standardized tests like the SAT and AP tests, has faced significant test cancellations due to COVID-19. In response to this, universities around the country suspended their test requirement - a move many predict may endure even after the pandemic is under control.

With demand for even the ever-popular SAT test waning, the College Board announced on Tuesday that it is discontinuing all SAT Subject Tests, as well as the SAT’s optional essay. Whether you’re a student, parent, or college counselor, you may be wondering what this news means for you, so let me answer some important questions.

What’s an SAT Subject Test anyway?

In the olden times (before this Tuesday), the College Board offered SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT. Unlike the SAT, which is meant to be more holistic, Subject Tests were offered in specific subjects like Literature, Biology, and Spanish.

While many colleges made taking the SAT a requirement, taking a Subject Test was mostly optional. They were most useful to students who wanted to demonstrate their skills in specific subject areas beyond what colleges could already see in high school transcripts and AP scores.

Many made the argument that because AP classes have become so widely available, Subject Tests have been rendered obsolete (the College Board acknowledges this opinion in their announcement).

What changes now that Subject Tests have been discontinued?

As I mentioned earlier, Subjects Tests were not generally a requirement for college applications anyway, so not much will change. The primary effect is that colleges will now place more emphasis on other test scores, particularly AP and IB. With those kinds of tests now the only way to demonstrate subject-specific expertise, being diligent in those courses and preparing well for the tests will be more important than it’s been in the past.

What if I’ve already registered to take a Subject Test this year?

The May and June 2021 Subject Tests have been canceled, so the College Board will be automatically refunding registration fees. You may want to speak with a college counselor to determine the best plan to demonstrate your skills to colleges in other ways.

What about the SAT Essay? Wasn’t it optional to begin with?

Well, in the truly olden times (when I took the SAT), the Essay portion of the test was mandatory. However, in 2016, the College Board changed the SAT and began offering the Essay as an optional add-on. Many colleges - especially the more selective ones - opted to keep the SAT Essay as an application requirement, so many students still completed it.

What effect will eliminating the Essay have?

The most obvious change is that colleges that once required the Essay will now have to drop the requirement and assess students’ writing abilities in other ways. This may include putting more emphasis on grades in English classes and performance on the Literature and Composition AP tests. It may also manifest in college applications with more long-answer questions and/or larger word-count requirements.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the fact that the College Board is discontinuing the SAT Essay and Subject Tests means a simplified college application process. Now students applying to college don’t have to worry about as many moving parts as they did before. However, as I’ve explained throughout this post, when colleges eliminate requirements that let students show particular skills, they’ll be looking for those skills in other places, like grades, AP test scores, and application essays. It’s up to the college-bound student to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward in those areas more than ever before.

If you read this post and thought Oh man - more emphasis on grades and AP scores is the last thing I need right now, reach out to the experts at ThinquePrep. Our Academic Tutoring services and AP Review Classes can help you get where you need to be.


Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.

With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!

189 views0 comments
bottom of page