Today there was big news from the College Board: SAT Subject and Essay tests are being eliminated. In their announcement, the College Board stated their goal was to “reduce demands on students” and to “respond to the changing needs of students and colleges.” One reality of those changing needs is, very few colleges require SAT subject or essay tests, largely because they have better means of assessing students’ abilities in subject areas and in essay writing.

Consider how the testing landscape has changed. The SAT debuted in 1926, after Princeton professor Carl C Brigham published a book titled A Study of American Intelligence in which he analyzed data from WWI army mental tests by race and determined that American education was declining, attributing the decline to increased immigration and warning that it “will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive.” Brigham adapted his army mental tests into an admissions test for Princeton; subsequently, the College Board commissioned him to develop the SAT. By the end of the 1930s, the SAT was required by all Ivy League schools and subject tests were available in 1937. Following WWII, increased college enrollment due to the GI Bill resulted in a steady increase in SAT test-taking. By 1960, when the UC system adopted the SAT as an entrance requirement, over 800,000 students were taking it annually. In 2019, 2.2 million students took the SAT and 1.8 million took the ACT. However, only about 10% of students took the subject tests.

Meanwhile, in 1954 the AP test came into being, with nationalized programs rolling out in 1955-1956. AP exams took off quickly, with over 1,000 colleges accepting them by 1965. In the 2017-2018 school year, almost 3 million students took more than 5 million AP exams; those scores were accepted by 4,287 colleges. As the AP test grew in popularity, the SAT subject test shrunk to the point where MIT– the last remaining school requiring SAT subject tests– dropped the requirement in March 2020. A handful of programs continued to require the subject tests, largely premed programs requiring math and chemistry exams. That’s hardly enough to justify an entire testing apparatus!

The summary is, AP (and IB) exams have largely replaced SAT subject tests for US high school students. The College Board administers the AP exam program, too, so when they talk about streamlining, they are also streamlining things for themselves.