The SAT Essay Is Going Away, but Essay-writing Is Not

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Written By Charles Zito

As of January 2021, the CollegeBoard has decided to eliminate the optional SAT essay. There will no longer be any essay section on the SAT after June 2021. This is good news for those who were unsure whether they should take the SAT essay. It’s also good news for those who were unsure about what value the essay would add to their college applications, especially given many schools’ variable essay policies.

The CollegeBoard’s decision has been generally well received in the world of college admission. For example, the Dean of Admissions at Yale sees it as a positive sign of the CollegeBoard “reducing steps and barriers in the [admissions] process” that many students might face. The CollegeBoard has also decided to discontinue SAT Subject Tests, stating that it wants to “simplify demands on students.”

However, essay writing is still important, especially when it comes to college readiness, and it should not lose its emphasis. As a former instructor of college writing (a course required for all college students) and a current high school English teacher, I must insist that the ability to frame an argument, incorporate evidence from a text, organize ideas, demonstrate mastery of grammar guidelines, and utilize transitions and varied diction are important tools that will prove valuable well beyond the realm of a high school essay or SAT. These skills will definitely be used in every class throughout a college career, no matter what your major, and beyond that into the working world. 

I get great satisfaction when a former student messages me to tell me how he identified two grammatical errors in a company email, or when she felt compelled to correct her professor about a rule of writing. Certainly, nothing more quickly diminishes the credibility of a written article for me than the presence of an obvious grammatical or spelling error! 

Yet even beyond basic grammar, the ability to state a clear argument and support it with reasoning and evidence is something that will benefit any adult in both professional and social contexts. This is why communication remains one of the most valuable (and difficult) skills in the workplace and interpersonal relationships. The power of communication is strengthened by an academic foundation in structuring an argument in an essay. 

Thus, while we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the CollegeBoard will no longer be judging the quality of test-takers’ academic writing using a generic rubric, students and parents (and teachers) should not lose sight of the importance of practicing and studying the art of crafting a well-written essay.

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