SAT Subject Test cancelation is a step in the right direction


Kristen Su

As a result of the College Board’s decision, the dominance of AP exams will overshadow the cancelation of Subject Testing.

Kristen Su, News Editor

Monopoly is one of the most recognizable board games on the market. Players take turns moving their pieces along the board, acquiring property, and hoping to become just that—a monopoly, through real estate investment. However, one wrong move could easily lead to bankruptcy, ending the hopes of having a successful business empire.

In the real world, Mr. Monopoly represents College Board, a not-for-profit organization administering the SAT, a college admissions exam that many colleges require, that nearly 2.2 million high school students take each year. In addition, the College Board also toots its SAT Subject Tests and AP exams as measures of future college success.

The SAT Subject Test cancelation makes way for AP exam dominance, as one failed business venture is easily traded for the more profitable property. And, I’m not complaining.

The cancelation decision

Citing the need to relieve student stress, the College Board explained that students should now divert their attention towards the continued expansion of AP exams and courses to fill the gap left by Subject Test cancelation.

“We’re reducing demands on students. The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means that Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know,” a statement released on the College Board blog read. 

Some have questioned the College Board’s motives, observing that this was more of a financial decision than anything else. According to the New York Times, some critics argue that due to the pandemic’s fiscal impact on the College Board, the elimination of Subject Tests was a strategic move to focus more on the AP exams because they are a more “financially viable” option.

Having planned to take two subject tests in May myself, whether the College Board’s motivations were truly motivated in part by student well-being does not really concern me. At the end of the day, this pressure has been taken off my shoulders, and I feel satisfied. In terms of standardized testing, I can now shift all of my energy towards preparing for the AP exams.

AP exams vs. SAT Subject Tests: What’s the difference?

The College Board lists both the SAT Subject Tests and AP exams as ways to “stand out” and get an “edge” in the college admissions process. Both boast the possibility of placing out of introductory-level college classes, but it is understood that the AP exams are more likely to guarantee college credit than SAT subject tests.

The benefit of keeping SAT Subject Tests is that it particularly aids homeschooled and international students. Because it is harder to get an idea of college readiness from homeschooled and international students, these tests are used to compare their abilities to those of other applicants.

However, that is the extent of the advantage Subject Tests hold over the AP exams. Simply by looking at the content being assessed, it is already clear that AP exams better equip students to think critically. 

AP exams are much broader in scope, with 38 different subject areas compared to the 20 that are offered as Subject Tests. While the Subject Tests are grouped under the five rigid categories of math, science, English, history, and foreign languages, AP exam subjects such as Research and Seminar are designed to help students develop critical thinking and speaking skills applicable to courses in both the humanities and sciences.

Students with non-traditional academic interests can also display their talent through the AP exams. Talented artists and musicians can show off their knowledge in the AP Art and Design courses or the AP Music Theory class, while students with a passion for coding can take the AP Computer Science exams.

Even in comparison to foreign language Subject Tests, which make up the bulk of all Subject Tests, the AP exams seek to develop a deeper understanding of the culture behind these languages rather than just students’ proficiency levels. 

All AP foreign language exams involve a cultural presentation. Students are given a cultural topic and given four minutes to prepare a 2-minute speech on its significance. This requires not only the mechanical reading/listening abilities of language-learning applicable to the Subject Tests’ multiple-choice sections, but also speaking skills and cultural awareness more applicable to the real world.

Most AP exams require the accumulation of skills and are not strictly knowledge-based. While students may still be able to cram knowledge on their own and do well on the exam, that is not solely what they are assessed on. The development of analytical thinking skills is valuable outside of the classroom, something that a 60-minute multiple-choice Subject Test is unable to accomplish.

Is the newfound reliance on AP exams a good thing?

AP exams are better in most aspects, but from my perspective, it seems that colleges would have to rely more on AP courses and test scores as determiners of an applicant’s future college success. This may place more stress on students to take on more coursework in hopes of compensating for this loss of a data point on their application.

Considering that the main goal of AP courses are the exams, and test scores do not paint the full picture of a student’s success, we could be trading one evil for a lesser evil.

However, right now in a time where test scores are still a prevalent factor in college admissions, I still firmly believe that AP courses are the best option.

Additionally, Director Mark Rosenbaum, who represents the law firm that sued the University of California over standardized testing, also mentioned in a New York Times article this decision still does not solve the problem of racial and socioeconomic discrimination in relation to the accessibility of AP exams.

This statement isn’t singular in its application to AP exams—it applies to all standardized testing in the college admissions process. 

Despite the over 1,685 colleges that have already decided to go test-optional, these colleges are not going to be completely test blind. 

The pandemic has caused nearly 72% of U.S. colleges and universities to adopt test-optional policies for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, and while some schools have extended their test-optional policies to the next 1-2 years, it is unclear whether this policy will become permanent.

The University of California set a precedent last year in agreeing to phase out SAT/ACT requirements and going completely test blind, but it’s likely going to take time before other schools follow suit. 

Although it is unclear whether this decision and the pandemic will have a lasting impact on colleges’ test-optional policies, focus being shifted towards extracurriculars, personal statements, and teacher recommendations, whether by choice or out of extenuating circumstances such as the pandemic, is a step in the right direction. More emphasis on holistic admissions while increasing accessibility to testing that is more reflective of true skill will help to better predict future college success and aid those of lower socioeconomic status.

While the College Board may continue to monopolize the livelihoods of millions of high school students and marginalize communities of lower socioeconomic status for now, the emphasis on AP testing brings more good than harm.