College Board discontinues subject tests, essay


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors and students walk around Harvard University’s campus. Harvard used SAT Subject Tests, which will be discontinued in June 2021, as a part of their admissions process. Photo by Theresa Lee

Drew Mutchnik and Rachel Cha

Wanting to be as prepared as possible, senior Vyshak Paruchuri started studying for SAT Subject Tests when he was a freshman. At the time, the colleges he wanted to apply to required subject test scores, so he took the Biology-E and Literature Subject Tests his sophomore and junior years, respectively. When Paruchuri heard the College Board discontinued subject tests, he had mixed feelings.

“I’m happy that people don’t have to worry about them anymore,” said Paruchuri in a video conference. “But I’m still kind of upset that I had to worry about them.”

On Jan. 19, the College Board announced the discontinuation of subject tests and the optional SAT essay. According to a College Board All Access post titled “An Update on Reducing and Simplifying Demands on Students,” neither are necessary because the Advanced Placement Program provides students with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and is more accessible for low-income students and students of color.

The College Board did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed about the discontinuation.

Subject tests had a $26 registration fee plus a $22 fee per test ($26 for language tests with a listening portion). AP tests cost $95 per test.

David Boyle, coordinator of college counseling at Glenbrook North, said in a video conference that AP tests are designed for college credit and placement, not for admission purposes. AP tests focus on a set curriculum, whereas subject tests assess a student’s understanding of a particular high school-level subject.

Without subject tests, additional emphasis on the Advanced Placement Program may cause stress and anxiety, Boyle said. Despite this concern, Boyle was pleased to see one less worry for students.

David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said in an email correspondence that most colleges do not require subject tests or the SAT essay. He expects the discontinuation to have little effect on colleges.

The colleges that did require [subject tests or the essay], limited to a handful of highly selective colleges, will have one less piece of information to consider about their applicants, though they will still have plenty of information upon which to base their admission decisions.

“Students will benefit by not having to subject themselves to a superfluous requirement that has no bearing on their academic skills or their ability to succeed in college,” Hawkins said.

Christopher O’Brien, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Boston College, said in a phone interview that, in previous years, applicants had been encouraged to take subject tests to further demonstrate proficiency in a course. The optional essay did not play a significant role in evaluating Boston College applicants.

“We’re going to still be able to assess our candidates and find out who the best students are applying for schools,” O’Brien said.

According to Paruchuri, he feels the discontinuation of subject tests is ultimately a positive change.

It’s … one less exam for students to stress about,” said Paruchuri. They could focus more of their energy on [required exams], and that could help them more.”