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College Board Scraps SAT Essay and Subject Exams. AP, A Level or IB Study Now Vital. The SchoolsCompared Guide 2021.
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Background: College Board Scraps SAT Essay and Subject Exams. AP, A Level or IB Study Now Vital.

Major changes have been announced to The SAT, a major right of passage for students attending US curriculum schools in the UAE – as well as those attending British, IB, and Indian curriculum school where students aim to secure places at US Universities.

The College Board is scrapping entirely:

  • The optional essay section of The SAT.
  • Specialised subject papers, including Biology, World History, Physics, Literature and Foreign Languages.

The optional essay added an hour to The SAT and was scored separately. Each additional Subject Test, again, required a further hour.

First introduced in 2005 the essay section was once central to the Admissions Process for top US universities as a key way for students to set themselves apart and improve their chances of achieving an offer of a place. In 2016, the College Board itself made the Essay optional.

That decision, because it meant that in practice the Essay was no longer a standardised test taken by all students, resulted in the SAT Essay, in recent years, being also made optional by many US universities.

First implemented in 1926, and administered by the College Board (a not-for-profit), The SAT itself is the core, fee based standardised test used by US universities to determine offers for students. It is also used by top tier universities outside the US when considering students who seek entry with alternative, international curricular. SAT scores range from 400 to 1600, with each of the two sections—Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Mathematics—worth up to 800 points. Most students in the UAE take the test during their junior or senior year of high school.

As a result of Covid 19, 2021 has seen even the core SAT being removed as an entry requirement for universities in the US, given that so many students have not been able to sit for the test.

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The decision has come in part as a direct response to the impacts of Covid 19.

 

What this means in practice for UAE students seeking entrance to US universities

Harvard and MIT both removed the requirement for students to sit SAT subject tests in 2020. MIT previously required applicants to submit scores for at least two subject tests: one science (Biology, Chemistry, or Physics) and one in Mathematics (either Mathematics Level 1 or Mathematics Level 2).

The subject tests will immediately end for U.S. students and will be phased out for international students by June. Students in the U.S. will automatically have their registrations for SAT subject tests cancelled and receive refunds. In the UAE it is believed that the tests will be made available only twice more this year.

The Sat itself, however, will remain a requirement in future years for most, but not all, US Universities.

The three-hour, multiple choice SAT measures Mathematical and English language arts proficiency. Even where it is accepted, many accept that the test is flawed:

  • The SAT (or its alternative ACT) does not test critical thinking at all – something vital for employers.
  • The SAT fixates on Mathematics. 50% of an individual student’s SAT score is determined by Mathematics, even though this is irrelevant for many degrees.
  • Differences in the ways that students prepare for The SAT distorts the fairness and value of the test.

Advanced Placement, the IB Diploma (not courses) and A’ Levels are increasingly been seen as much better tools to impress top tier universities than the Sat:

 “We have found that the best predictors [of grades] at Harvard are Advanced Placement tests and International Baccalaureate Exams, closely followed by the College Board subject tests.”

Dean of Admissions. Harvard University. 

All three alternatives, A level, Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate Diploma have the further benefit of being accepted as course credits towards the granting of a US Bachelor’s Degree. Most colleges require 120 credits to secure a Bachelor’s degree. Each relevant qualification can achieve between 3 and 8 credits, depending on the subject and university, this saving time and money in tuition.

The University of California college system voted in May to permanently remove the SAT/ACT requirement. More here and here.

Instead The University of California’s has mooted its replacement by an alternative as yet unspecified test. It is far from definite that a replacement test will ever actually be developed.

MIT has also announced that  it will no longer consider SAT subject tests in the admissions process, starting with the 2020–2021 admissions cycle. Again it is looking at alternatives. More here.

A list of currently and permanently SAT Test Optional US Universities can be found here.

 

What this means in practice for UAE students seeking entrance to UK universities

US students seeking to access UK universities generally require Advanced Placement, IB Diploma or A Levels.

” We usually expect students to have either SATs or the ACT and either APs (Advanced Placement tests) or SAT subject tests (or a combination of APs and SAT subject tests, or other equivalent qualifications, if they are in different subjects).

  • SATs: students sitting this qualification will need to achieve a total score of 1,470 (out of 1,600). We do not require the optional essay in the SAT.
  • ACT: students taking this qualification will need at least a score of 32 out of 36. We do not require the optional essay in the ACT.
  • APs (Advanced Placement tests): grade 5 in three or more appropriate subjects.
  • SAT Subject Tests: 700 or more in three appropriate subjects.”

Oxford University Admissions. 2021.

However, an insight into the relative weakness of the SAT subject tests can be found here from the University of Cambridge:

“Applicants from the USA should note that offers are usually made on an individual basis. Typically, suitable evidence of preparation for entry would comprise five or more Advanced Placement (AP) Scores at grade 5. In addition, high passing marks on your school qualification (eg the relevant US High School Diploma) and a high score on the SAT (I) Reasoning Test or ACT, are expected. Please note that SAT II (Subject) Tests are not normally viewed as being equivalent to AP Tests.” [Italics added. Ed.]

University of Cambridge Admissions. 2021.

The High School Diploma is certainly not sufficient for accessing British universities- and is increasingly not sufficient for even US University entrance without being supplemented by Advanced Placement, A Levels or the IB Diploma.

The ‘twist’, however, is that given A level exams are not taken until several months after US letters of acceptance are sent to students,  (I)GCSE’s and AS level results may prove sufficient by default.

 

Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared Verdict 2021

Advanced Placement at iCademy Middle East School in Dubai

We are not a fan of examinations, let alone their being used in isolation to define whether a student will be able to begin study at their chosen university – or indeed secure their entrance into university. More here. In an ideal world, universities (as employers) would look at students in the round. Practically this is, at least currently, logistically impossible, and tests and examinations of some description are needed. The Covid 19 pandemic has, however, wreaked havoc with university admissions systems, as it has with much else, and, as a result, universities are having to look not only at student achievements in examinations, but also beyond them. This is very good news for many UAE students. The UAE’s top schools, powerfully and credibly, understand the importance of, and focus on the whole child:

Art, Design, Music and the Performing Arts are integral to the whole Dubai College experience.

Parents hoping for a single pointed focus on academic excellence need not apply.

For us creative expression and creative production are at least as valuable as outstanding academic results.

Michael Lambert. Headmaster. Dubai College. 

2020 and 2021 has seen many students simply unable to sit the SAT. Unlike the case with the International Baccalaureate Diploma, GCSE or A Level examinations, it is simply not possible for teachers to provide recommended SAT grades for students. It just would not work.

Because too it is simply not possible for all students to sit the SAT, its usefulness as a standardised examination has crumbled.

The add-ons to the SAT, traditionally used by students to stand-out – namely the essay and individual subject exams,  were already in decline as fewer and fewer US universities recognised their value against alternatives – especially Advanced Placement.

So where does this leave students at American curriculum schools, or indeed British, Indian and IB schools, in the UAE, seeking to improve their odds of securing a place at US universities?

Our advice follows…

Wherever possible, it is still worth sitting for the SAT, and particularly if you are confident of scoring highly. Think through this strategically.

It is, however, no longer relevant at all to sit for the essay or individual subject examinations.

What is, however, now much more critical, is to sit for Advanced Placement examinations, or, if available, British A Level or IB Diploma qualifications. As a rule, IB courses will not cut it – you need to study for the whole Diploma.

We have long argued that all US curriculum schools should be offering Advanced Placement as standard. Too few schools still do. Few, even if they do ofer these, offer credible breadth of subject choice and give the AP sufficient focus.

With the growing weakness of the SAT, following Covid 19, and now the collapsed value of the essay and individual subject exams, the need for Advanced Placement has never been more vital. More on this here.

For students in British, IB or Indian schools without access to the SAT, it is extremely likely that universities, worldwide, will, in the short term at least, no longer insist it is taken.

For all universities, expect instead for their admissions teams to place much more emphasis on your qualifications (I/GCSE and predicted A Level grades in British schools) and final results in alternative curricular schools.

So too, and as importantly, the evidence that you can provide about your education beyond pure academics will never have been more valuable, this from both you in your application, and direct input from your school.

Make no mistake, the outstanding whole child education on offer by top tier schools in the UAE is some of the very best available anywhere in the world. It is worth celebrating, and shouting about – from the rooftops if necessary.

© SchoolsCompared.com 2021. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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