The Era of COVID has been nothing short of a nightmare for the College Board, which has been forced to reschedule and cancel crucial tests throughout the nation. Amid the panic, however, the organization has chosen to make several long-term alterations to the formats of their standardized tests.
Though many of the recent changes to the logistics of SAT tests are perfectly reasonable in the face of the pandemic, one announcement stood out to me as particularly shocking: that the College Board will stop offering the Essay portion of the test after June 2021.
The SAT Essay allows students to write a rhetorical analysis of a provided text, detailing argumentative strategies used by the text’s author to formulate an argument. Students utilize quick thinking and logical reasoning, as well as their writing ability to create a strong argument within a 50-minute time limit.
This format of essay sections on multiple choice has been used in SAT’s and AP Exams alike for years, and for good reason. A timed essay provides a very different experience and a different value than the typical multiple choice test, and greatly bolsters the utility of a test as a whole.
An Essay section on any test forces students to think creatively and in-depth about a subject, beyond the level of multiple choice answers. On the SAT, the Essay gives students a chance to show their creativity and adaptability, in contrast to the repetitive bubble-in questions
I found in taking my SAT that where the multiple choice section of the test is rigid and unforgiving, with distinctly correct and incorrect answers, the Essay section was provided a chance to truly excel due to its open-ended nature. The Essay isn’t just right or wrong; its value is dependent on the writer’s abilities in analyzing the resources provided and being able to adapt and quickly find an argument to make.
The primary unique benefit of the SAT Essay comes from the presence of a timer, as it tests students’ ability to come up with a cohesive and defensible argument under timed pressure.
After June, however, it seems that these benefits will become unavailable to some students thanks to the College Board’s recent decision.
The Board’s official statements on their reasoning for removing the Essay was that they aim to streamline the college admissions process through the removal of extraneous factors. Presumably, the organization feels that college admissions essays already provide students an opportunity to prove they can write long pieces of text.
However, it seems that the decision has failed to realize the key role that a mandatory, standardized timed essay provides students. College essay prompts are often given to students months in advance, allowing them to take time to write what they feel is the perfect essay. There is no need for students to use quick thinking and reasoning skills in this process.
In contrast, the presence of timed essays will show colleges a student’s affinity for thinking about an open-ended subject quickly and under pressure.
And without the Essay section, the test turns back into a thoughtless jumble of rigid multiple choice questions. This format of test can be extremely limiting in its ability to test students’ abilities due to its rigidity and singular focus.
However, The College Board further contends that the skills tested by the essay are also continued by the Reading and Writing and Language sections.
But it’s clear that multiple choice questions cannot live up to the utility of the Essay, And without its sole component which could test students’ reasoning and adaptability, the SAT’s will undoubtedly be incomplete.