On The Death of SAT Subject Tests and Uncertain Future of Standardized Testing

On The Death of SAT Subject Tests and Uncertain Future of Standardized Testing

If you haven’t heard yet, SAT subject tests have officially been put to death from January of this year for US students and this month for international test takers. Having spent months studying for SAT subject tests back when I was a junior, when I first heard the news I was so jealous that future students wouldn’t have to worry about them at all, and also a little sad that my subject test prep books would remain rotting in the back of my closet forever, never to teach despairing high schoolers about fungal spores again. 

 

The SAT and ACT have also been greatly impacted by COVID closing testing sites all over the world, and combined with a push for eliminating standardized testing in the college application process in the US, a majority of American universities have become temporarily or permanently test-optional or test-blind. 

Test-optional vs Test-blind— what’s the difference?

Test-optional schools don’t require you to submit an SAT or ACT score with your application, but if you want to submit a score, they’ll consider it when deciding whether or not to admit you. This means that if you get an SAT score that you’re not happy with, you don’t have to submit it so it won’t hurt your chances, but a “good” SAT score can boost your chances of admission just as they used to.

 

Test-blind schools also don’t require you to submit an SAT or ACT score, but even if you choose to submit a score, it won’t be considered with your application. To a test-blind school, getting a 1600 or a 400 on the SAT both mean the same thing— because they both have no significance at all. Like the name implies, the school is… blind to your test scores, just like how I wish I was blind to my failing physics test results.

So yay, no more tests… right?

All the studying that goes into preparing for a standardized test is super stressful, and because test scores are no longer required to apply to most universities, you might be tempted to throw out your SAT prep books and plan to spend your time binge-watching a new kdrama instead.

 

When you fill out a college application, I see it as essentially reducing yourself down to a list of data points— your unweighted and weighted GPA, level of extracurricular involvement, strength of your recommendation letters etc. Even though you as a person definitely cannot be condensed down to a couple thousand words on paper, even the holistic admissions process that many colleges employ relies just on what you tell them to make a decision on your application.  A lot of the things that don’t seem easily quantifiable are often given a (possibly subjective) score to allow for admissions officers to compare students, as evidenced in the details that came out in the Harvard lawsuit a couple of years back. If your SAT or ACT score is removed from the equation, there’s more weight placed on the other parts of your application, and it makes sense that you use the time you saved from not having to study for standardized tests to work on extracurriculars or essays.

 

SAT subject tests used to be helpful in demonstrating interest in a particular subject area, so you might be able to look for extracurricular opportunities like programs or internships in those fields instead. (Though finding an internship is often easier said than done— being ghosted through email hurts 🙁 )

 

If you’re able to, I think that it’s still worth it to take a standardized test, because some of the colleges that you’re applying to might still require a test score. I didn’t finalize the list of colleges that I was applying to until late senior year, and if I hadn’t taken the SAT or ACT, I would be limited in applying to only test-optional and test-blind schools because I didn’t have a score to submit. A “good” test score is also a positive data point in your application, and if you get a score that you’re not satisfied with, you can either try to improve your score or choose not to submit it at all. It’s a far cry from the days where I remember having to submit all test scores to certain colleges back when I was applying, as opposed to being able to select just my best result to be considered. I’m looking at you, Carnegie Mellon. But considering the fact that in certain areas it’s still almost impossible to find open test centers right now because of COVID, I think that it’s a necessary move for many schools to be test-optional not to punish you for situations outside of your control, and it’ll be interesting to see how the shift to test-blindness plays out in the coming years and how it might affect the increasingly lottery-like nature of admissions results.

Enough rambling, what’s the point?

The bottom line is take a standardized test if you have an opportunity to, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it and focus on the other components of your application instead. Ultimately, I don’t think that SAT subject tests will be missed— especially by students who no longer have to take them just for their applications to be considered by certain universities— and hopefully you’ll be able to spend your time on more enjoyable things instead. 

 

A moment of silence, please, for all of the lives taken by SAT subject tests— and for those who never have to face such horrors, appreciate one of the silver linings of the pandemic 🙂

 

Until next time!

 

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