The College Board recently announced that the SAT will discontinue the optional essay. Their reason for the change: adapting to the “ new realities and changes to the college admissions process . . . and to reduce demands on students.” Curiously, a 2006 College Board study of the writing prompt that debuted the previous year stated, “ The writing section should be a useful addition to the SAT in terms of predicting academic performance during the first year in college.” In 2018, 70% of those taking the SAT opted into the optional essay, even though only 2% of the colleges required it. Then, in a 2021 press release, the Board announced that while the SAT was continuing its objective grammar section, it was eliminating the essay, claiming that there are other ways for students “to demonstrate their mastery of writing skills.” Yet the Board makes no mention of what these alternatives could be.
Who benefits from the elimination of the writing prompt? Will colleges use students’ personal statements to assess writing ability? How will the admissions offices know if the students are the actual authors of the essay?
“Writing is a very complex and effortful cognitive task.” It requires the use of attention and working memory. In addition, the process of handwriting an essay involves a body/brain connection. A 2017 National Institute of Health study of reflective writing concluded that these skills were found to be a “predictor of academic performance” in different formats of assessment that included written examination. Even the College Board’s research found the essay was especially beneficial for Black students and non-native-English speakers in predicting first-semester performance in college.
Sadly, despite their own research, the College Board has disposed of a critical method of assessing students’ college readiness.