Guide to SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Tests are the only nationally recognized admissions tests that allow students to test in a specific subject(s) to better illustrate their mastery in that area(s).
What Subject Tests Are Offered and When?
There are 20 different Subjects Tests and each are offered at different times throughout the year. Upcoming Subject Test dates can be found on the College Board website.
The Subject Tests cover a majority of the subjects (and then some) students were exposed to in high school including:
- English Literature
- History (U.S. or World)
- Language (Chinese, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Spanish or German) - written only or written with listening component
- Math (Level 1 or Level 2)
- Science (Biology-Ecological, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry or Physics)
Here's a more detailed explanation of each test.
Students can take up to three Subject Tests on a given test day, although they might want to spread them out to make it more manageable. Note: If the student is considering taking a Subject Test in Biology, only one Biology test can be taken per test date.
The good news: students can change the number of tests taken on a given day without penalty (except for Language with Listening). And, if they don’t do well, no harm, no foul. They can take the test again or they can choose not to report the test scores (unless they are required).
How SAT Subject Tests are Scored
Each Subject Test lasts about one hour and is scored on a 200–800 point scale. For each correct answer, one point is earned, and for each incorrect answer, ¼ point is deducted. The difference between the scoring on an SAT Test and an SAT Subject Test is that statistically, a higher percentage of high-achieving students take the Subject Tests. So although a 750 on the SAT might put a student in the 99th percentile, a 750 on a Subject Test might only put them in the 80th percentile.
The colleges the student applies to will determine what qualifies as a “good score” and if it’s good enough—in conjunction with their other admission materials—to warrant acceptance into the school.
Who Should Take Subject Tests & Why They Matter
Not every student should feel like they need to take Subject Tests. We recommend that students falling into the categories listed below should pay close attention to what and when the tests are offered and plan their test prep accordingly.
Students applying to colleges that require Subject Test scores
When students are getting ready to apply to colleges, they should read over their admission guidelines carefully. Subject Tests are often required of students applying to particular colleges within a university. For instance, students applying to leading engineering programs typically have to take Subject Tests in Math 2 as well as Chemistry or Physics. Currently, there are 160 schools that require Subject Tests.
Even if a student is taking the ACT instead of the SAT, some colleges may still want to see scores from SAT Subject Tests. If that information isn’t readily available from the admissions materials, it might make sense to contact an admissions counselor and ask them if these tests play any role in the admissions process.
Students applying to colleges that recommend taking Subject Tests
Some colleges may “recommend” certain Subject Tests be taken as a way to gauge an aptitude in a certain area. And when we say recommend, that generally means the student should take the test.
The scores on these Subject Tests may be the differentiator between your child and another student with a similar profile, so better safe than sorry.
Students who want to give themselves an “edge” over the competition
Again, Subject Tests can be the differentiator between your child and another student. And let’s face it, when they’re applying to colleges there is a lot of competition. So if they can give themselves an “edge” over their peers, why not take it, right?
Even if the school doesn’t require the test, if your child is planning on studying one of the key areas that are being tested, they may as well take the test when the information is fresh in their mind. This generally translates to the May or June time period coinciding with end-of-year final exams.
Students who are homeschooled
Because homeschooled students take a different approach to learning than traditional students, admissions counselors might put more weight on standardized tests and Subject Tests by considering them an equalizer of sorts to reflect their knowledge and college readiness.
The Subject Tests will allow students to showcase what they’ve learned in the homeschooling environment and prove they’re ready for college. Some colleges may even “require” that homeschooled students take certain Subject Tests.
Students whose primary language isn’t English
Students whose second (or third or fourth) language is English, might like to take the opportunity to highlight their excellence in areas that don’t revolve around the English language like math, science, or foreign languages. This holds true for international students as well.
Students looking for advanced placement in college courses
If your child is already enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, then taking the Subject Tests right after their AP exams is a great way to capitalize on what they were already studying. Sure, it may be a long week of tests, but when it’s done, it’s done! Colleges will use these Subject Test scores to place students in the appropriate courses. This is critical to make sure they are challenged and working at their academic capacity.
What’s the Best Way to Prep for Subject Tests?
If a student is taking more than one SAT Subject test, we recommend purchasing "The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests." If they're taking just one test, they can purchase a study guide for that particular subject from the College Board, online book retailer, or local bookstore.