On January 19th, 2021, the College Board shook the college admission community with news that it will no longer offer Subject Tests or the writing component of the SAT. Already the current class of 2022 is feeling the pressure of not knowing what the admission landscape will look like amidst an ongoing raging pandemic. But to add salt to some already fresh wounds, they hear this news.
High school counselors are applauding the announcement–less administrative responsibilities on their part and one less worry for their high school students. But we should all understand, this is far from an altruistic move on the part of the College Board. We can surmise that they ran the numbers and saw that the subject tests were losing popularity to the AP exams. Here is some data to support this. In 2000, 768,600 subject tests were administered as opposed to 1,272,317 AP exams. Let’s compare those numbers to 2020: Last year only 442,913 subject tests were taken while 4,751,957 AP tests were administered. The College Board was not making money on the Subject Tests, so it seems they have pivoted and committed themselves to pushing the AP exams. They will create more AP programs, sell more tests, and hope to persuade colleges to incorporate the AP test scores as criteria in their admission processes.
The College Board is also racing against the ACT test to see who can effectively move their exam to an online testing platform. Dropping the writing component from the SAT will allow them to do just that. Having just administered the AP tests online last spring, they may have the edge.
Who loses out with this announcement?
- In recent years, some Independent schools across the country have moved away from offering AP classes. They felt constrained by the AP curriculum and felt that the students were being taught solely for the test. These schools did not want creativity to be sacrificed for a test score. Now, in order to keep their students competitive in the college admissions game they may have no choice but to feel pressured to return to the AP curriculum.
- The homeschool community is another group that has relied on subject tests to account for rigor of their curriculum.
- Students in underserved communities do not have as many opportunities to take AP classes; AP classes are not universally available.
- Those students who wish to apply to international programs. McGill University, University of Edinburgh and Oxford University are just a few examples of universities that require some subject tests or a combination of subject tests and AP tests. What will happen now?
- Our current juniors now have to find different ways to set themselves apart from others. In the absence of scores, students need to forge stronger relationships with their teachers who will be writing letters of recommendation on their behalf. They should seek out school clubs and neighborhood activities that align with their interests–and if there is no club–be courageous and create one.
Only time will tell how this will all play out, but the College Board is wasting no time in promoting the AP as the standard subject tests of the future. My inbox just this afternoon included a message with the subject line: “How to start the year with AP?”
My advice is that students and parents stay current on the constant ebbs and flows of the admissions world. Read emails from school counselors which often contain valuable information. While there are numerous websites out there that offer advice, be wary that their information is accurate and can be trusted. For example, CollegeVine is a site that is a go- to for many families and students. It brands itself as expertise in admissions, but upon looking closely it only has one staff member out of 23 that has admissions experience, the rest are marketing, data scientists, and product managers.
I recommend going to the source: The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s. The association’s website offers excellent, current information and publications that can steer families with facts. Additionally turning to individual school’s websites will also yield powerful and trusted information.