SAT Subject Tests: An Overview

The SAT Subject Tests, formerly known as the SAT II, are subject specific tests designed to test students on their knowledge and achievement in academic subjects.  Subject Tests are not required by all colleges and universities, but they are required by many of the most selective schools.  Some schools require Subject Tests only if the applicant is submitting the SAT and not if the applicant is instead submitting the ACT with Writing, while other schools require the Subject Tests regardless of whether the student is submitting the SAT or the ACT.  Most schools that require subject tests require two, although a few schools require three.

 

What Subject Tests are offered?

Subject tests are offered in most academic subjects, including Mathematics, English Literature, foreign languages (with or without listening), US and World History, and the sciences.  For a complete list of tests offered, visit the College Board’s website:  http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/sat-subject/about.

 

Which Subject Tests should you take?

The first thing to determine in deciding which Subject Tests to take is whether any of the schools or specialized programs you are applying to require specific Subject Tests.  If any of your schools do recommend or require specific tests, your decision has been made for you.  Specifically, engineering programs often recommend that students take the Math II (the higher level math) and/or the physics.  If none of the schools you are applying to requires you to take specific Subject Tests, you should take the tests that best demonstrate your abilities.  In general, this means taking the tests on which you will score the highest.  If you are unsure which tests you will do best on, purchase The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, which contains a real sample test in each subject.  Try taking the ones you feel like you might do well on.  Then grade your tests and compare the scores.  If the scores are close, consider which tests will be easiest to prepare for.  In addition to considering which tests you would score best on, you should also consider which tests demonstrate your abilities as they pertain to your academic interests and the programs you are applying to.  For instance, if you are applying to an engineering program, you should consider taking the Math II and the Physics, even if the program does not specify which tests you must take.

 

When should you take the Subject Tests?

In general, it is a good idea to finish up with the SAT or ACT before turning your attention to the Subject Tests.  The SAT or ACT is somewhat more important than the Subject Tests, so you want to concentrate first on your SAT or ACT score.  The Subject Tests are offered on the same test dates as the regular SAT, and you cannot take both tests on the same date, so this situation can require some planning.  Many students plan to be finished with their SAT no later than May of their junior year, so they can take the Subject Tests in June and, if necessary, again in October.  Sometimes, it makes sense to take one or more Subject Tests early.  Specifically, it makes sense to take a science or history test in June after you have just finished taking a class on that subject.  That way, you will not forget all the information you just learned.  Be aware, however, that supplemental studying is often necessary.

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