Breaking News SAT Subject Tests Top Tips

SAT Subject Tests Discontinued, Effective Immediately

The College Board announced today (January 19, 2021) that effective immediately, the SAT subject tests will be discontinued for students in the U.S. and they will be phased out for international students this summer after the May, June test dates.

This decision is the culmination of the slow and steady erosion of the subject tests, exacerbated by the pandemic and test center closures over the course of the last year. Even prior to the pandemic top universities including MIT, CalTech, and Yale had made decisions to no longer even consider these scores in their admissions processes.

The reaction from students, as you might expect, has been highly enthusiastic. Within minutes of the College Board’s announcement, Top Tier students were sending us links to the national news story.


In light of this dramatic announcement, we encourage our students to recommit to your study plan for your upcoming AP exams, (along with your SAT and ACT work and grades). This change will lead admissions officers to put even more emphasis on results of AP exams in upcoming admissions cycles. We also believe that post-pandemic, you’ll see top colleges and universities reinstating the required SAT or ACT for the next admissions season. So, sophomores shouldn’t throw out their subject test books quite yet.

Did you miss the sign up for AP exams? The late registration for exams is March 12th, so get on that now. Remember that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the exam and you can self-study for these exams. We know that some high schools discourage their students from signing up for AP exams but this change in the SAT subject test policy may lead them to reconsider their position. Lobby for yourself!


We also know that many of you were counting on high subject test scores to help you stand out in the crowded college admissions landscape. Without subject tests available, another way you can boost your candidacy includes taking college courses for credit. Earning strong grades in these courses illustrates your readiness for college work and is yet another data point in your evaluation. Especially if you will be applying to colleges without a robust slate of AP tests, college courses are crucial to help you stand out.


Beyond just your grades and scores, colleges are increasingly inspired by students who engage with important issues and who advocate for others. Carve out a space for yourself as a leader and find creative ways to take a stand on issues that are important to you.  Civic engagement is key!

So, recycle those subject test prep books if you are a junior and then get to work! We are here to help you make sense of it all.

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Common Application: Does “Optional” Truly Mean Optional?

You’ve finished the core components of your Common Application – your main essay, your activities, and any required supplements for the schools on your list – and are ready to submit. Then you pause.

Should I self-report my scores? Do I need to respond to the COVID question? Will colleges read the four extra letters from my other recommenders?

Need some last-minute advice? Read on!


Standardized testing these last few months has been an exercise in frustration for seniors. You’ve registered and prepared, only to see test centers shuttered and exams canceled – sometimes with no warning. Maybe you were able to sit for the SAT or ACT once but ended up with a lower score than you had hoped.

For students applying to colleges that are newly test optional, including the majority of the most selective colleges in the country, a good rule of thumb is that if your SAT or ACT scores are well within the middle 50th percentile range, then go ahead and submit these scores. Remember that for many top colleges, the switch to test-optional this year leaves admissions officers without some of the customary guideposts they used to help decisions. If everything else about your application is strong— your GPA, rigor of course load, and rank (if your school calculates one)—then including scores confirms to admissions officers that you are the kind of student they seek to admit.

What if your SAT or ACT scores are below the school’s typical admit ranges? If you are from a high school that typically sends lots of high-scoring applicants their way, admissions officers will likely assume that you are unhappy with your scores and chose not to send them. Remember that they have data from prior years’ applicant pools so they have some sense of what to expect from your school. Students from low-income schools and communities, those in historically underrepresented groups, will likely be given more benefit of the doubt than students from well-resourced families and schools.

We also anticipate that newly test-optional colleges this year will be flooded with applicants from around the country and around the world who, in previous years, may have been discouraged from applying because of lower scores. If applicant pools balloon, guess how admissions officers will sort through applications? They’ll use data – scores and GPA – especially in the first read, to figure out who seem to be the strongest students in their pool. A word about AP scores. If you’ve got a bunch of AP courses on your transcript from junior year, admissions officers will check to see if you self-reported your results. If not, they’ll assume the results were poor. So, if you have scores of 3 or higher, report them! In the absence of an SAT or ACT or subject tests, strong AP scores will also help show your strength.

Common Application COVID Question


The Common App’s new, optional question opens the door for students to share more about the impact of COVID on their “health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable and quiet study spaces.” Should you respond?

First, ask yourself a question. We’ve all had our lives turned upside down these last 9-10 months. Virtual schooling, zoom fatigue, quarantine blues, canceled testing, disrupted activities – these are common to all high school students. If the story you tell pretty much recounts what every high school student has had to contend with, then you are better off not responding to this optional prompt. You risk coming off as tone-deaf or privileged, two things that will form a bad impression in the minds of your application readers. 

Do answer this question if you and your family experienced significant hardship because of COVID – serious illness or death of a loved one, parent’s loss of employment, additional home responsibilities caring and teaching for your siblings, lack of access to technology and other online resources. In addition to sharing your struggles, be sure to show admissions officers how you overcame these unexpected challenges.


Back in the day when students applied to college using pen and paper (seniors, ask your parents about those days), admissions officers had a saying: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” Essentially, students who loaded up their application with tons of extra letters of recommendation were essentially compensating for weaker credentials and basically throwing the kitchen sink at the admissions office.

So, once you’ve assigned the one or two required teachers, be judicious in using any of the optional or “other” recommenders. If you truly believe that a potential recommender can offer a perspective on your candidacy that no other recommender can, then go ahead and tap that person to be your “other” recommender. But, loading up on extra recommendations – even if the college allows – can overload your application with extraneous materials, making admissions officers a little grumpy as they wade through these extra letters. Good luck with your applications and we are here to help if you want last minute essay help or an entire application review before hitting SEND.

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Oops!…They Did It Again. More SAT and ACT Issues

You’d think that after a spate of SAT and ACT cancellations because of COVID-19, the College Board and the ACT would pull out all the stops to ensure that high school students – especially current juniors – would face no obstacles in rescheduling their exams for July, August, September, and October.

You’d think leaders of these two mammoth companies, keenly aware of the numbers of colleges and universities waiving testing for students applying to college this fall, would do everything in their power to avoid losing even more market share at a pivotal time.

Instead? Turmoil and greater uncertainty for juniors who did not complete their admissions testing before May (i.e. most of them).


Last week, the College Board attempted to reopen registration for students who registered for spring 2020 testing and who have no SAT scores. A crush of students and families – clearly the result of pent-up demand among anxious juniors and their parents – tried to register but were met with technical failures. We were hearing from our students one after another that they were sitting at their computers for hours and could not log on. This comes on top of the glitches with the online AP exams that resulted in thousands of students not being able to submit their exams and having to take the exams again in June.

Today, the College Board announced that it is canceling plans for an online, in-home SAT. As noted in the Washington Post, an estimated 1 million high school juniors this spring who do not have an SAT score were blocked from taking the test because of testing-center cancellations. They form a large share of college-bound seniors in the Class of 2021. The College Board hopes to expand capacity in the fall, but how much that will offset this spring’s testing turmoil remains unknown.

SAT ACT frustration


Meanwhile, over at the ACT, a change in CEO ensued and the organization sought to cut its costs by having fewer test centers open this June and July. Fewer test centers – and more social distancing in those that do open – means that students will face uneven access to the ACT this summer.

The ACT is prioritizing Class of 2020 seniors who need the ACT for scholarship applications and admissions decisions and juniors in the Class of 2021. According to the head of a test prep service, only 33% of testing centers are scheduled to open in June and July. As Jed Applerouth noted to Inside Higher Ed, “Students will be disproportionately affected across the country. No students in Massachusetts will be able to sit for a June ACT. In Wisconsin, a single test center of the 107 scheduled will be open. In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, a mere 15 of their 203 sites are open,” he wrote. “States with fewer than 10 percent of sites open include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin.”

UPDATE: June 18ACT is postponing section retests to allow for more students to take the full ACT test.


Have we reached a tipping point? Today, over 1,200 four-year colleges and universities either do not require the SAT/ACT or have waived the requirement for the Class of 2021. We predict that more colleges and universities will move to test optional policies for the Class of 2021 because of the extraordinary stress and uncertainty many now face.

So, should juniors try to take the exams? If you are planning to apply under an early decision or early action program and were able to secure a seat for June, July, August, September or October, then yes. Use time this summer to prepare and do you very best on the exams. You’ll get the results of these exams before the vast majority of early deadlines. Even schools who’ve waived testing for this year will still take note of strong scores on your admissions application and they will strengthen your application.

And do check out schools who have gone test optional for this upcoming round of applications, and those schools who have been test optional including, Bates, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Cornell, and Dickinson.

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Is the SAT/ACT Essay Still Needed?

In 2005, the College Board debuted the “new” SAT, which included a new and mandatory essay. The impetus for the change was both a desire to prioritize the importance of good writing but also in response to pressure from the University of California. The large UC system, enrolling over 200,000 students, said that fewer freshmen were prepared for the rigors of college writing, and threatened to drop the SAT altogether unless a writing section was added. Not to be left behind, the ACT also added an optional writing section in 2005.

No one disputes the importance of writing, but nearly 15 years later, are these writing assessments relevant? Do they provide admissions committees helpful information to assess a student’s writing ability?


Let’s start with a look at the current admissions requirements of schools atop US News and World Report’s top national universities and liberal arts colleges to see what they say about this assessment:

National University

Essay Liberal Arts College



not required Air Force Academy

not specified

Cal Tech

not required Amherst recommended

Carnegie Mellon

not required Barnard

not required

Columbia not required Bates

not required


not required Bowdoin

not required


not required Bryn Mawr

not required


optional Carleton

not required


not required Claremont McKenna

not required


not required Colby optional


not required Colgate

not required

Johns Hopkins

not required Davidson

not required


not required Grinnell

not required


not required Hamilton

not required


not required Harvey Mudd

not required

Notre Dame

not required Haverford

not required


not required Middlebury

not required


optional Naval Academy

not specified


not required Pomona

not required


not required Smith

not required

U Chicago

not required Soka University


U Penn

not required Swarthmore

not required

UC Berkeley

required U Richmond

not required


required Vassar

not required


not required Washington and Lee

not required


not required Wellesley

not required


not required Wesleyan

not required

Wash U

not required West Point



not required Williams

not required

NOTE: This list is subject to change. Be sure to confirm with each school prior to applying.

Only two top national universities – UC Berkeley and UCLA (as well as the rest of the UC system) clearly state on their websites that the essay portion of these exams is required.  Of the top national colleges, only two require it—Soka University of America, and West Point—and one (Amherst) recommends it.


Does this mean that admissions committees no longer value writing? Absolutely not. They will review grades in rigorous and honors level English courses, your essays and supplements, other standardized testing (especially AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition), recommendations, and increasingly, graded English or history papers.  Yes, many schools, Princeton for example, are finding that the graded papers required by all applicants are helpful in evaluating for admissions.

So, don’t stress out about the essay portion of your SAT or ACT, unless you are targeting any of the schools mentioned above, but do focus on improving your writing abilities through rigorous coursework and reading great literature (fiction, non-fiction, classic, and contemporary) and challenging periodicals. Beyond just getting into college, improving your writing skills will be key to your lifelong success.

Insider Tips SAT Standardized Testing Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests – A Quick Primer

Many parents ask us why their kids should bother taking subject tests if they also take APs – why are subject tests so important anyway? A bit of background – you might remember them as ACHIEVEMENT tests as that’s what they were called for many years, then SAT IIs and now simply “subject tests.” They are sponsored by The College Board, the same organization that brings us the SAT and AP tests.


Unlike AP tests, which are college level and last 3 hours (a combination of multiple choice and essays), subject tests are all one hour multiple choice tests in subjects ranging from U.S. History to Biology to Math and Korean. Top colleges and universities used to require that all applicants submit scores from 2-3 subject tests but over the last several years, colleges have changed their language from requiring to “recommending”. Let’s look closely at why the language has changed and what that means for you.

A key strategic objective at all top colleges over the last two decades has been to increase the diversity of students applying and enrolling. There’s plenty of evidence that points to a clear correlation between economic resources and standardized test scores, as well as differences in testing across racial and ethnic groups. So, in order not to discourage minority students and students from low-income backgrounds, many colleges are now saying they do not “require” subject tests but rather only recommend them.

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Keep in mind they are just saying that so they don’t scare off the students that they seek to attract into their applicant pools. The reality is that for students who attend strong public high schools or boarding schools or private schools, “recommend” really means you need to submit strong subject tests. Colleges expect you to take as many subject tests as correspond to your actual schedule. That means if you are taking honors chemistry, pre calc and U.S. history, they will look for the Chemistry, Math II and US history subject tests. Note: the subject tests are based on honors level coursework, not AP courses, although, for sure, AP courses can be helpful. If you are taking honors chemistry in 10th and AP chemistry in 11th, you can wait till the AP level to take the subject test but, for example, if you are taking an advanced honors biology class in 9th, you can also take the subject test then. Colleges use subject tests to validate your grade in a class. How can they tell that your “A” in physics is the same as another student’s A? They simply look at the subject test results. For top tier colleges, we recommend 3-7 subject tests depending on students’ class schedules and scores on practice tests that forecast high scores.

Subject tests are scored on the same 200-800 point scale used on each section of the SAT, but not all tests are alike. As you can see from data provided by the College Board, a 750 is not the same across all tests. The scale is different for every subject test – you can see that illustrated here if you click on the percentile charts on the College Board website.


If you’re seeking a tutor, look no further. Our subject test tutors will help you define your strengths and weaknesses via diagnostic testing and then work towards maintaining your strengths and improving your weak areas. Buy the Barron’s and Princeton or Kaplan subject test books at the beginning of every school year and study every week rather than saving it till the end of the year. If your teacher doesn’t cover everything, tutor or form a study group, use Khan Academy or study on your own – either way, you will be judged on your scores so be proactive!

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