COVID-19 pandemic prompts SAT to remove optional essay, subject tests

SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The College Board said Tuesday it will eliminate the optional essay from the SAT and do away with subject tests amid a changing college admissions landscape.

"The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead," according to a statement from the not-for-profit College Board, which said it wanted to make the SAT more flexible and reduce the demands on students.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the widespread cancellation of group testing sessions for the SAT and rival ACT since March, leading numerous schools to eliminate testing requirements for the current admissions cycle. Others have permanently made entrance exams an optional part of applying to college.

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The three-hour, multiple choice SAT measures math and English language arts proficiency. The optional essay adds about another hour and is scored separately, as were the lesser required subject tests given in specific areas like chemistry or foreign languages.

The subject tests will immediately end for U.S. students and will be phased out for international students by June.

The optional essay will be discontinued after June testing sessions.

Nearly 2.2 million 2020 high school graduates took the SAT before the pandemic shut down schools, according to the College Board.