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College Board drops SAT's optional essay and subject tests to 'reduce demands on students'

U.S. students registered for subject tests will get refunds. The last subject tests for international locations will be in May and June.
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The College Board announced Tuesday that it is ending the optional essay section and subject-area exams of the SAT for college-bound U.S. students.

The coronavirus pandemic "accelerated a process already underway" to "simplify our work and reduce demands on students," the College Board, a standardized testing nonprofit, said in a note to members.

Broader and more diverse access to Advanced Placement courses, the College Board said, means SAT tests in subjects like biology, physics and world history are "no longer necessary for students to show what they know." SAT subject tests were optional, multiple-choice exams that students could take to demonstrate aptitude or standardized academic credentials in topics like Spanish, biology and physics — none of which are part of the general SAT exam.

U.S. students registered for subject tests will get refunds, while the College Board will provide two final SAT subject test administrations in May and June for international locations because the tests "are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes."

The optional SAT essay section, which was introduced in 2005, will be discontinued after June testing dates because "there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing," the College Board said.

After June, the 800-point section will continue to be available in states where it is required for SAT School Day, which the College Board says is "a way to offer the SAT to juniors and seniors in school, on a weekday," in a way that doesn't conflict with after-school and weekend commitments and streamlines access to reduced-price and low-income options for needy students. Other students who are registered for the spring can cancel free at any time.

The essay section had a 15-year heyday — the section, which raised the maximum SAT score from 1600 to 2400, was a central part of many students' college admissions applications for years. However, by last year, several major institutions had made the section optional.

The College Board said it is also working to make sure that the test can be "streamlined" and "digitally delivered" in the event that the pandemic "continues to impact testing this spring."