College Board Removes SAT Subject Tests

Rohil Bhinge, Staff Writer

This has been quite the year for the College Board. From reformatting AP exams in mere weeks to coordinating thousands of socially-distanced SATs, the organization has faced many pandemic-related obstacles to its goal of preparing students for higher education. Despite the College Board’s steady adaptability to the vagaries of COVID-19, it has been dealt one major blow: test-optional college admissions.

Almost every university in the United States, including all eight Ivy League universities, did not require the SAT or ACT for this year’s applicants because of the inequities spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some colleges, like UVA, extended their test-optional policy to the Classes of 2022 and 2023, and other schools, like UC Berkeley and UCLA, will be test-blind (i.e., standardized testing will not be considered at all) by 2023. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed a long-standing conversation about the fairness and necessity of standardized testing.

For years, the College Board has had a tight grip on the college admissions process. Most students have taken a slew of College Board exams, such as the SAT, the PSAT, AP exams, and SAT Subject Tests, and not surprisingly, they loathe the organization for its deluge of tests. However, the actual relevance of some of these exams, most notably the SAT Essay and Subject tests, has long been debated.

The SAT Essay is an optional component taken immediately after the regular SAT. SAT Subject Tests are a series of hour-long tests that focus on topics like biology, math, and world history. These exams are nowhere near as frequently taken as the regular SAT, usually only taken by students aiming for prestigious universities. However, with test-optional admissions pulling these exams’ declining popularity down to an all-time low, the College Board has decided to cancel the SAT Essay and Subject Tests altogether.

Photo by Tamara Nguyen.

Jeanine Lalonde, an Associate Dean at the UVA Admissions Office, wrote on her blog that even before the cancellation of these tests, SAT Subject Test scores mattered very little to her. “I joked with one student that this might save us about 3 seconds here and there. The bulk of our time is spent on the other parts of the application,” most notably the students’ grades.

Senior Dylan Do took the SAT Math II Subject Test, formerly recommended for students aiming for STEM careers to demonstrate their advanced high school math skills. Despite receiving a satisfactory score, he believes that the decision to nix subject tests was a good one.

“There’s just so many things students have to worry about: GPA, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and a healthy social life.” Do, a prospective computer science major, adds that students with lofty college goals “need to sacrifice some things in life, but the high school experience shouldn’t be one of them. Students not having to worry about Subject Tests makes that more feasible, in my opinion.”

Junior Shreeya Sriraman agrees with Do that the exams cause unnecessary stress. “I was planning on taking math and physics because they could help me get into science and engineering [programs]. I’m glad they were canceled because they were always just a burden.”

Sriraman also believes that the college admissions process is now more equitable because “not everyone has the money to buy a bunch of prep books.” The tendency of testing to favor students with better access to resources, especially for detail-focused subject tests, has caused controversy within the college admissions world.

Senior Saurabh Khanna also took the SAT Math II Subject Test, as well as US History, aligning with his goals of studying business. Khanna is personally ambivalent about the College Board’s decision to cancel the tests, but he believes that subject tests could still be valuable to admissions officers.

“The best case [for retaining the exams] would be that SAT Subject Tests offer an additional way for students to show their academic ability.” For example, while most SAT Subject Tests usually act as replacements for AP exams, the SAT Math II Subject Test measures ability in high school math skills. Now, students seeking to show their advanced math skills must take the AP Calculus or AP Statistics exams, which are significantly more challenging than the SAT Math II Subject Test.