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College Board Ends SAT Subject Tests: What You Need to Know


On January 19, 2021, the College Board announced that it would no longer administer SAT Subject Tests (or the SAT Essay). This is a major shift in the world of standardized testing, and it creates a lot of questions. What does it mean that the College Board is dropping SAT Subject Tests? Why did they make this decision? What should you do if you've already taken SAT Subject Tests or were planning on taking them to strengthen your college applications? Read on for the answers to all these questions and more.


What Does This Decision Mean?

The College Board's decision means that, if you are a student in the United States, you can no longer take an SAT Subject Test. The next SAT Subject Test date was going to be May 8, 2021, but that will not happen as Subject Tests are no longer being administered in the US.

If you're a student outside of the United States, you will have two more chances to take SAT Subject Tests. These final two test dates are May 8, and June 5, 2021. After that, SAT Subject Tests will no longer be offered internationally either. (The College Board stated that Subject Test scores are used for a wider variety of purposes internationally, which is why international students have the option of two final test dates but American students do not.)

If you've registered for a Subject Test, your registration will be cancelled, and you'll be refunded in full. If you're an international student who registered for a Subject Test but now no longer wants to take the exam, you can cancel your registration and also be refunded.


Why Did the College Board Decide to Drop SAT Subject Tests?

The College Board gives two official reasons for no longer administering SAT Subject Tests. First is that they want to "reduce demands on students," particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic resulted in multiple SAT test dates being cancelled or postponed, and students often had trouble signing up for the tests that did still happen.  Eliminating Subject Tests means students have fewer exams to worry about studying and registering for. Colleges have also tried to reduce their demands on students, and many have temporarily or permanently dropped their standardized test score requirements as well as extended their application deadlines.

The other reason the College Board gave for eliminating SAT Subject Tests is that Advanced Placement (AP) tests are becoming more widely available and can take the place of Subject Tests. And it's true that AP exams are becoming more and more popular while SAT Subject Tests are becoming less and less popular. Many colleges, including most of the Ivy League, used to require or highly recommend that applicants submit two or three Subject Test scores as part of their application. In recent years, however, colleges have been making an effort to make the college applications process easier, especially for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and may not have the money or time to take SAT Subject Tests on top of everything else. In the past few years, more and more colleges have realized that, with students submitting SAT/ACT scores, high school transcripts, and AP scores, SAT Subject Tests aren't necessary to get a good picture of a student's academic ability.

The vast majority of schools have already dropped their SAT Subject Test requirements. By the time of the College Board's announcement, only a handful required them, and then usually only for specific programs. As a result, the number of students who take SAT Subject Tests has been rapidly declining. For example, for the high school graduating class of 2017, about 220,000 of those students took an SAT Subject Test, which is down 30% compared to 2011. By comparison, over 1.3 million of them took at least one AP test, and several million took the SAT or ACT. We expect those disparities between Subject Test and AP test-taker numbers have only become more extreme. Since  2017, more schools have continued to drop Subject Test requirements, and the number of students taking Subject Tests has likely kept going down. It may simply no longer be profitable for the College Board to continue to administer Subject Tests.




What Does Discontinuing SAT Subject Tests Mean for Students?

If you're a high school student who was expecting to use SAT Subject Test scores as part of your college applications, this announcement might be jarring and stressful. However, rest assured that this change will only have a small (if any) impact on your applications. SAT Subject Test scores were never one of the most important parts of college applications, and their importance has declined significantly in recent years. It's also key to note that colleges try never to penalize students for circumstances beyond their control (which is what this situation is). In this section, we explain different ways the ending of Subject Tests can impact students, as well as how you can craft a strong application without them.


What If You've Already Signed Up for a Subject Test?

If you've signed up for an SAT Subject Test date that has been cancelled, you don't need to do anything. Your registration will automatically be cancelled, and you'll receive a full refund. If you're an international student who signed up for one of the May or June SAT Subject Test dates but no longer wants to take the tests, you can decide to cancel your registration, and you'll also receive a full refund.


What If You've Already Taken SAT Subject Tests?

If you've already taken SAT Subject Tests, you'll likely still be able to submit them to colleges and have them considered as part of your application. While you can't take any additional Subject Tests, your scores for past Subject Tests will still remain available, and you'll still be able to submit them to colleges.

But will colleges accept those scores? The College Board stated that it reached out to multiple colleges, and schools will decide individually how they will handle SAT Subject Test scores. Contact schools you're applying to for more definite information. As we mentioned above, colleges don't like to penalize students for things beyond their control, and when you took the Subject Test you had no idea they'd be suspended. Therefore, most colleges will likely still accept and consider your Subject Test scores, and high scores may give your application a small boost.


What If a School You're Interested in Recommends or Requires Subject Test Scores?

As mentioned above, very few schools required or even outright recommended taking Subject Tests in recent years. However, if a school or program you're interested in was a member of that small group, they will (obviously) drop that requirement/recommendation as it's no longer possible to complete. They may not replace it with anything, or they may instead recommend/require AP test scores in place of the Subject Tests. 


What If You Wanted to Take Subject Tests to Strengthen Your College Applications?

Many students found SAT Subject Tests to be a fairly quick and easy way to strengthen their college applications. It was common for students to take Subject Tests on the same topics as AP exams they were already studying for, so they could have additional standardized test scores to submit to colleges without much extra studying. Now that SAT Subject Tests will no longer be administered, what should you do if you were relying on them to be part of your application? The good news is that, especially in recent years, Subject Tests were never one of the most important parts of college applications. Additionally, there are many other ways to show your academic skills. The best way is to get strong grades in your high school classes. Your high school transcript continues to be one of the application items college admissions teams look at most closely, and strong grades in high-level classes are the best way to show you've excelled in high school and are ready for college. 

If you want additional standardized test scores to show your knowledge in specific areas, AP exams are your best option. In fact, most colleges find AP exam scores more useful than Subject Test scores before AP exams test more content and require more in-depth answers. Most students take an AP class before taking an AP exam, but there are also some AP exams that you can study for even without taking the related class in high school. Overall, SAT Subject Test scores were never going to make or break your college application, and there are still plenty of ways to show colleges your knowledge of different subject areas.


Summary: The End of SAT Subject Tests

In January 2021, the College Board announced it would no longer offer SAT Subject Tests in the US, and, after the June 2021 test date, would no longer offer them internationally. The College Board offered two reasons for this change. The first is that they wanted to reduce demands on students during the pandemic by giving them fewer exams to prepare for. The second reason is that AP exams are being widely used in place of Subject Tests, particularly in the past few years. In recent years, many colleges have dropped their SAT Subject Test requirements because they got enough information about students from SAT/ACT scores, high school grades, and AP exams.

If you already registered for a Subject Test, your registration will be cancelled, and you'll receive a full refund. If you've already taken Subject Tests, they may still be accepted by colleges, but contact them to make sure.




What's Next?

Want to get a perfect SAT score? Take a look at our famous guide to a 1600, written by an expert SAT perfect-scorer.

Interested in tips for preparing for AP exams? Our five-step guide to AP exam prep walks you through everything you need to do to be well prepared.

Not sure how to choose a college? Our guide to choosing a college walks you through every question to ask yourself so you can choose the best school for you.



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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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