Last year saw most US universities/colleges going test-optional due to the Coronavirus pandemic, such as Cornell, Amherst College, Williams College, and the University of California. Several colleges have decided to continue with a test-optional policy in the forthcoming application cycle for the year 2022 as well- including colleges such as Stanford University.
Now there have been more changes – it’s official that the College Board is bringing about two major changes to the SAT. It is discontinuing the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT optional Essay. Most importantly, the SAT is moving online.
Students outside the U.S. can still take SAT Subject Tests in May and/or June 2021
1. AP exams instead of SAT Subject Tests
Justifying this decision, the College Board said, “We’re reducing demands on students. The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.”
What does this mean for students from CBSE, ICSE, or state boards who have not studied in an IB curriculum?
A significant increase in difficulty from what they have studied so far. The AP curriculum is very different from the state level and other boards. Unlike the SAT subject tests, students will need a whole new level of preparation for doing well in AP. APs only happen once a year so it might be challenging and students will have to plan better.
Preparation for the SAT Subject tests involves focusing on some defined skills. However, an AP exam involves mastering college-level material specific to an AP course. It’s too early to say whether this shift in focus to APs is a positive or negative development. Another thing to consider is that statistics related to AP from home this year showed that students did face problems in test-taking. However, it can be hoped that moving forward these testing issues will be sorted out.
What you should do
Grade 12 students should focus on May and June SAT subject test attempts since the format is discontinued and present grade-12 should take it now if at all they wish to write this exam.
Students in grades X and XI should start familiarizing themselves with the AP Exam of their choice because their AP scores will be crucial for proving subject knowledge to universities.
2. No more SAT essay
This change is much less momentous. The optional essay score was anyway not influencing your SAT score but served as a metric for colleges to evaluate your writing skills.
What does this mean for you?
We might see a more rigorous Writing and Language section to evaluate your grammar and proofreading skills. Your college essays might assume greater importance as an evaluation criterion for your communication skills.
3. SAT is moving online
While there is not much information available on this yet. The College Board is working on making the SAT an online exam soon.
The important question is- Does ‘test-optional’ mean ‘test-dispensable’?
To answer this question, let’s first understand the difference between the various testing policies.
Should you still bother taking the SAT or the ACT?
After all, this test-optional situation does sound like a waiver of some sort at first. No more of getting worked up about getting each multiple-choice question right. No more toiling through history and science passages. No more proving yourself through a test score. As with most things in life however, the truth is more complicated and needs careful evaluation.
When a school announces that it is ‘test-optional’, this simply means that test scores are not required to complete the application. What you need to remember is that most of these schools still do factor in test scores should you choose to include them in your application.
Let’s understand this situation better through an analogy.
Say you have asked to recruit new members for the school choir or band out of a group of strangers whose applications you have on your desk. You don’t have much time since you have your own classes and other responsibilities to take care of. Neither do you have the time to ask each person to sing (the horror!). Now if including an audition video was optional, which means that some candidates include it with their applications while others don’t, who would you select? Chances are you will select the candidates whose applications provide proof that they actually can sing so that at the least there is no disharmony.
Be assured that your application will also be looked into by individuals who don’t have much time on their hands. It’s really impossible for them to evaluate your unique skills. Since both SAT and ACT are standardized scores that allow for easy comparison, they are likely to view you favorably if you have a stellar score on your application. A test score allows for easier comparisons and diversity can be factored in using the other elements of your application.
Here is a list of some top Colleges/Universities with their updated testing policies:
What is the role of SAT/ACT in the application process?
Apart from being a means of uniform evaluation of diverse global applicants, the Standardized Tests also enable colleges to eliminate and categorize applications prior to reviewing them.
As a counsellor, I have worked with students from all over the world. Each year I have observed that the Standardised Tests are an important tool to assess reasoning skills and aptitude fairly. A privileged student who may have employed a full time tutor might still not perform well while a student with no additional test prep support may naturally ace the test. The standardized tests even out the playing field for all applicants, whether rich or poor, by giving students a fair chance to showcase their academic acumen.
Can home-testing ensure fair assessment?
Testing bodies are taking necessary steps to ensure fairness, such as administering the tests at a fixed time across different time zones or asking candidates to switch on their testing device’s video camera while writing the test. However, colleges will use their discretion too while evaluating the application. Colleges are explicitly stating that they will question the results of home testing if they are not in sync with the student’s overall academic caliber. In fact, students are being encouraged to submit the home-test scores only if they believe the score is an accurate reflection of their aptitude. In the present scenario, universities are conducting final semester evaluations, in a digital at-home format too. The US Admissions Process and the entire Education System is based on a very strong Honor Code; if students can’t uphold that code, maybe the US isn’t the right destination for them anyway!