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The College Board is dropping the SAT Essay and SAT 2s

What does this mean for college applicants?

January 26, 2021

Last week, College Board, the organization behind the SAT and AP tests, announced that they were getting rid of the essay section of the SAT and all SAT 2 subject tests entirely. This takes effect immediately for SAT 2 subject tests in the US and applies to the SAT after the June 2021 session. If you want, you can cancel the essay section with no fee.

Many top tier colleges, including the Ivy League Plus (Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc.), have always required applicants to take the SAT’s optional essay section and around two SAT 2 subject tests. But these requirements always were a bit redundant:

  • Essay: College applications already require many essays specific to the application, allowing admissions officers to gauge the writing skills of applicants.
  • Subject Tests: Students applying to top-tier schools will oftentimes already have taken many standardized tests for specific subjects e.g. AP or IB. (I personally took 19 APs in high school.)

Decreasing testing requirements is a great thing for students, who often are over-stressed and overworked already. But the ramifications of this change could be significant.

Here’s what we think this means for college applicants:

1. College application essays are even more important

Without a standardized method of evaluating a student’s writing skills, the quality of your application essays will be the primary way that admissions officers can assess your writing ability. The essays have always been the most important part of the application, an opportunity to show the admissions officer who you are and what you bring to the college. Now, your ability to use complex sentence structures, write succinctly, and organize your thoughts become more important, skills that the SAT essay assessed before.

2. Higher emphasis on Grades / GPA

An advantage of the SAT 2 subject tests was that they gave admissions officers a standardized ruler to gauge how well a student has mastered a subject, say, Chinese, Math, or Chemistry. Without these subject tests, a student has one less avenue through which they can demonstrate competency.

Before, a student could get a B on Algebra 2 but a 800 on SAT 2 Math, showing admissions that the grade didn’t necessarily reflect the mastery. Now, there’s no SAT 2 to lean on. This means that admissions officers will have to rely more on the student’s GPA and transcript, looking at the grades for individual classes relevant to the major you’re applying for. Combined with your school’s profile, a document provided by your school to colleges that outlines your school’s curriculum and grading distribution, admissions officers can get a proxy for your subject mastery. All-in-all, you’ve got to get those A’s!

3. Higher emphasis on AP or IB tests

As we mentioned, many students will already taken these tests. If you haven’t, now there’s all the more reason: without SAT 2, this is another way to strengthen your application and show mastery of subjects. Even better: having a good score on these tests show that you have college-level mastery. While a 3 on an AP (4 for IB) is a passing score, this just indicative of a C-grade in the college course, so we strongly recommend getting a 5 for APs (6 for IBs).

Does your school not offer these tests, or is it missing certain subjects? It’s often possible to register to take the tests at a different school that you attend. If your school doesn’t offer these tests, chances are, a school nearby will.

Getting the right preparation

I always tell my students that the most important things for college admissions, in order of importance, are grades, college essays, and test scores. Extracurriculars are a must to differentiate your application, but the first three are prerequisites. These SAT changes don’t change that advice, but it makes it all the more important to do well along those dimensions.

Angela Sun Consulting can help. We’ve helped hundreds of students on test prep and college admissions. Have any questions? Feel free to reach out.

Good luck!

Angela