College Board announces removal of SAT essay

The College Board announced on Jan. 19 they will be discontinuing the SAT essay, as well as SAT subject tests. This change will be permanent and effective immediately in the U.S., but international students can continue to take the SAT with essay and subject tests through June 2021. The SAT essay was a rhetorical analysis essay, similar to one on the AP English Language and Composition exam.


“I felt really uncertain [about the essay], because there was no defined way to write it,” junior Abby Nguyen said. “[With the removal of the essay] the focus is more on the test and not the essay, it will be more clear for what students should focus on studying.”


Senior Lilly Parker prepared for the SAT using Khan Academy practice tests and took the official test with the essay in August of 2020.


“I was intimidated by the essay because I was worried about being given a confusing prompt,” Parker said. “I had gone through AP Language and Composition though which teaches the rhetorical analysis essay.”


AP English III teacher Jeannette Rooks has been teaching an SAT/ACT prep class for seven years. In the course, she prepares her students for the multiple choice portions and helps students with the essay portion towards the end of the course, if time allows. 


“I don’t think the kind [of] writing [the essay] was asking is at fault, it’s a lot like the kind of writing we do for AP, but the scoring to me was suspect,” Rooks said. “I didn’t trust the scoring of it entirely, especially that whole [quantity over quality aspect]. I still think kids who score high wrote a good essay, but I think the expectations on it were fuzzy. I didn’t think it was a very adequate measure of someone’s writing ability.” 


Students who registered for subject tests scheduled for May or June of 2021 will automatically have their registration canceled and be refunded. The SAT essay will still be available through June for all test takers who opted in for the essay.


“Really good writers will suffer [with the removal of the essay] in that they won’t be able to showcase their skills,” Parker said. “I personally struggled with the essay, so it would selfishly be a relief to me if it were permanently removed.”


According to College Board about 70% of test takers participated in the essay portion of the SAT in 2017. After the essay portion became optional in 2016, few colleges required applicants to take the essay.


“I always have students that really struggle with the pressure that I know are strong writers,” Rooks said. “It’s testing more than writing, it’s testing also your ability to deal with time pressure and to think really quickly. I always say in class, when we have discussions, sometimes those pauses are when thinking happens and that’s something we should encourage.”