Do I Still Need to Take the SAT? Changes to Test-Optional Schools and Your Application

A series of changes have rocked the world of standardized testing, thanks to several monumental decisions that were laid down by College Board at the end of last year. The SAT, the ACT, and the college admissions process will never be the same again—which means that everyone involved, from high school educators to college admissions officers to our prospective students themselves, will find that they must change the way they engage with the college admissions process.

Admittedly, that claim may sound a bit dramatic. But that just reflects the scope of the changes that have been made lately in the realm of standardized testing. For starters, Collegeboard has decided to remove the essay portion of the SAT and to no longer offer its SAT Subject tests. This article from Forbes speculates on the reasons why these moves may have been made. They mostly have to do with creating more efficiency in college admissions, as well as cutting down on the costs of providing tests that are not as popular. The consequence? AP Exams, which test similar upper level subjects in the sciences, maths, social sciences, and humanities as the SAT Subject tests, may be weighted much more heavily in admissions considerations.

As noted, the absence of redundant tests and writing portions does not mean that standardized tests as a whole are being devalued. Rather we can expect to see the complete opposite, since “colleges need uniform baseline scores to compare students at different high schools across the country. With the purging of the SAT Subject Tests, the remaining standardized tests, AP, IB, SAT and ACT, will likely be more closely examined by the admissions staff.

But what about the larger movement that is being conducted by colleges to go test-optional? Can we still say that the SAT is important to college prospects when it is no longer even required by every school? After all, the test-optional movement is no eclectic crusade being led by a sparse few liberal arts colleges. See this expansive list of colleges that decided not to require SAT scores for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Although most of these schools framed the choice as a response to the disruption that Covid-19 posed to regular patterns of education, the call to eliminate standardized testing requirements even after the pandemic seems to be gaining traction.

Here the answer becomes a bit more complicated. However often colleges may cite their appreciation for personal characteristics, extracurricular activities, and other non-quantitative evaluations of an applicant, they still need a baseline assessment of a student’s academic capabilities. The most simple and level way to conduct that comparison across applicants is still some sort of standardized test. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is that your SAT score is only impressive and helpful for your case if it is on the higher end! Thus, the question you should be asking yourself is not whether you should take the test but whether you can do well on it. Going forwards, the best way to stand out academically to colleges will be to keep sending in those tests—from the comprehensive tests like the SAT and ACT to subject-specific AP Exams—but to make sure, more than ever, that you are sending in the very best scores that will reflect positively on your application!

In order to help you stand out and use the SAT or AP Exams to your advantage, you should make sure that you are preparing thoroughly for the material covered on the tests, the types of questions asked, and your grasp of pacing or test-taking strategies. To help you get started, we at HSA Tutoring have prepared SAT and ACT Test Prep group courses, where you can practice for the tests in a class setting, as well as more customizable Private Tutoring packages for AP subjects. All of our services are taught by Harvard students who themselves have studied and excelled on the same tests you’re about to take! Get all the help and prep you need to ace all the tests—and college apps—headed your way.