Most Recent Changes To The SAT® & SAT Subject Tests™

The College Board® recently announced significant changes to the SAT® as well as the SAT Subject Tests™. First, after June 2021, the SAT will no longer have an optional essay component. There may also be additional changes to the test as the College Board makes a strong push for the exam to be administered digitally in the future. Second, the SAT Subject Tests will be discontinued, effective immediately. The changes to the Subject Tests will take effect for students in the US and are expected to be permanent. More information will be announced by the College Board in April.

For parents, it is important to understand what this announcement by the College Board entails for their own students’ application prep and planning. The changes to the SAT and cancellation of the Subject Tests provide a great deal of information about upcoming trends in admissions—trends that were in the works but have been greatly accelerated by the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, students who want to remain compelling candidates cannot simply meet these cancellations with relief at a decreased workload. Rather, students must work strategically to showcase academic qualifications that would normally have been provided by this suite of standardized exams.

The AP® exams have always been one of the most important tools for universities to assess whether students are ready for college-level coursework. Colleges have long valued APs as a more widespread and inclusive measure of academic rigor. David Coleman, CEO of The College Board, says that “the wide availability of AP programs make subject tests less necessary.”

In addition, the College Board states that the APs “provide the type of hands-on learning experiences and practical, real-world work that colleges want to see from students.” In other words, students still have the burden to prove their academic preparation according to a national standard that goes beyond the high school transcript. Only now, they must prove their performance by excelling on the AP exams, which test a higher level of curriculum and critical thinking than do the Subject Tests.

Unfortunately, there is widespread concern about AP Exam preparation. The weaknesses of remote learning and declining student motivation have created a dire situation in the American education system. While the current virtual learning environment makes it difficult enough for students to learn the material, they need to excel on these exams—which is a challenge since most, if not all, CA public schools have reduced virtual schedules, resulting in even fewer hours of instruction to prepare for exam content. In addition, grade inflation and teacher accommodation of the remote learning environment have created a situation in which a high grade in a class may not be an accurate assessment of a student’s preparedness on a national standard.

So what should families do?

11th Graders:

Class of 2022 students should completely discontinue SAT Subject Test prep and double down on AP preparation. The first step is for students to take a FLEX AP Assessment. These assessments are designed to diagnose learning shortfalls early enough that students can take steps to correct them. Our assessments are graded by expert instructors with decades of experience according to the AP grading rubrics in order to give students a realistic picture of their preparedness.

Students who need to make up for certain weaknesses or gaps in their learning can enroll in FLEX AP prep classes. These classes, taught by experienced instructors, can provide students with the understanding and extensive practice they need to master these exams.

Students may also want to re-evaluate the strength of the SAT/ACT® scores and decide whether it will be “good enough” for the schools they are targeting. Whether colleges go test-optional again during the 2021-2022 application is uncertain; however, students who have strong SAT/ACT scores may have a competitive advantage over peers who choose not to submit any scores.

10th and 9th graders:

Class of 2023 students and younger should not plan or prepare for any SAT Subject Tests. As stated earlier, the elimination of the Subject Tests are expected to be permanent. With regard to APs, younger students who are enrolled in AP classes should also take a FLEX AP assessment and make sure that they are prepared to do well on those tests in May.

In addition, students should think ahead in terms of course selection, which typically starts in early February for most schools. In general, students should register for as many AP courses as possible, even if they find they must lessen the rigor of their course load during fall semester, because it is typically easier to drop than add an AP course. (Students should look into their own school policies on this matter.) FLEX counselors can help students navigate the course selection process and to evaluate the number and types of AP courses required for their target colleges.

Additionally, for May 2022, motivated students can consider self-studying to take additional AP exams in subjects that they did not take in school; this would be something for younger students to consider, as they often have a lighter course load during their freshman and sophomore years. FLEX can provide recommendations as well as connect such students with tutors.

While the college admissions process remains in a state of evolution, informed families can help provide their students with the preparation they need well in advance of an application cycle. Specifically, with regards to breaking news from the College Board, students should not waste the time they have gained through the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay. They should invest that time into effective AP test preparation. In doing so, students will become more competitive candidates and open up their college opportunities.

For more information and to learn more about these recent changes, email

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