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SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Test prep options
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The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour multiple-choice tests administered on each SAT test date except in March. Tests are available in the following subjects: English Literature, History (U.S. or World), Language (Chinese, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Spanish or German), Math (Level 1 or Level 2) and Science (Biology-Ecological, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry or Physics).
Language tests can be written only or written with listening. The dates on which you can take a particular language test may vary.
You may take up to three Subject Tests in one sitting, although you should spread them out if you can. On test day, you are allowed to change the number of tests or subject you take with no penalty—except for Language with Listening tests. Also only one Biology test can be taken per test date. (The first 60 questions of the Biology test are the same whether you take Biology-Ecological or Biology-Molecular. Thus, you can take only one or the other.)
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Each Subject Test is scored on a 200–800 scale. You get 1 point for each correct answer, and ¼ point is deducted for each question you answer incorrectly. That means you shouldn't necessarily answer every question, but guessing is always a good idea if you can eliminate two or three of the options.
Even though they're scored on the same 200–800 scale, SAT Subject Test scores can't be compared to general SAT® scores because the Subject Tests are taken by a higher percentage of high-achieving students. For example, a 750 on the math section of the SAT would put you in the 99th percentile, but a 750 on the SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test would place you only in the 79th percentile. Likewise, for the SAT Chemistry Subject Test, a 750 only ranks at the 82nd percentile.
So what's a good score? That depends on the school to which you are applying. Many colleges are happy with scores of 650 or above, but highly selective schools may want to see a 700 or 750—or even higher in the case of Math Level 2.
The SAT Subject Tests are a required component of the admissions process at about 160 elite private schools. Some schools require Subject Tests only if you take the SAT, while others want to see Subject Tests even if you take the ACT®. Most schools ask for two, but this too can vary. As you develop your college list, be sure to check each school's website to see whether it requires or recommends Subject Tests.
If you aren't sure where you want go yet, plan to take two Subject Tests, since that will cover the majority of schools that require them. Most schools list their application requirements on their admissions page. And keep in mind that if a school "recommends" Subject Tests, that pretty much means you should take them. It's a good idea to double-check this information again at the end of the summer before your senior year to ensure that requirements haven't changed.
Here's a snapshot of Subject Test requirements at a handful of schools:
At Cornell, the Subject Test policy depends on your major. Not surprisingly, the School of Engineering requires a Math Subject Test and a Science Subject Test. The College of Arts and Sciences requires two "of your choice." Hotel Administration and the Architecture program at the Architecture, Art, and Planning school require a Math Subject Test. Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Ecology and Industrial and Labor Relations do not require Subject Tests.
Columbia wants to see two Subject Tests if you take the SAT but none if you take the ACT. Engineering applicants must take a math and a science Subject Tests.
Stanford recommends but does not require Subject Tests.
At the University of California school system, Subject Tests are generally not required, though some programs recommend them. Moreover, Subject Tests can be used to meet the minimum high school course requirements and to show academic mastery.
Vanderbilt does not require Subject Tests but will consider them. They are strongly recommended for homeschooled applicants.
Myth: The more Subject Tests I take, the better!
Schools that require or recommend Subject Tests will only consider scores from the tests they ask for.
Truth: If a school recommends Subject Tests, I should take them.
Many of the applicants you're competing with will submit their scores to schools that recommend Subject Tests, so don't put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by not taking them! Instead, prepare so you can do well.
Myth: Every school will accept ACT scores in lieu of Subject Tests.
While some schools only require Subject Tests for students who take the SAT, many others ask for Subject Tests regardless of whether you take the SAT or the ACT.
Truth: Some students should take Subject Tests before junior year.
If you are taking a course in 9th or 10th grade that has a corresponding Subject Test, you should prepare for and sit for that Subject Test at the end of the school year.
With adequate preparation, many 9th graders are ready to take the Biology Subject Test at the end of the school year. And if you plan to take AP® Biology in 11th grade, you can retake the test then if needed, since colleges will only use your highest score.
Some 10th graders opt to take the World History Subject Test, while others who are in honors Algebra II or Trigonometry courses choose to go for Math Level 1 or 2.
Myth: If I do well on an AP Exam, I will automatically do well on the corresponding Subject Test.
While there is some content overlap between Subject Tests and AP Exams, the topics covered on SAT Subject Tests may differ from those that appear on AP Exams. So it's important to prepare adequately and to ensure you know what content is tested on each.
Truth: I should avoid taking a language Subject Test if I am not fluent.
Many students who speak a foreign language fluently will take the corresponding Subject Test in that language and get a perfect score. That means the curve is not likely to be in your favor. For instance, a score of 750 on the Spanish Subject Test will rank in the 72nd percentile.
However, if a foreign language is your best subject and you're not applying to a highly selective college, it may make sense to take the language Subject Test despite the unfavorable curve. But if you are planning to apply to a top-tier school, you'd be better off with non-language Subject Tests.
Myth: I should take Math Level 2 because it has a better curve than Level 1.
While it is true that Math Level 2 has a relatively favorable curve, the test is significantly more difficult than Math Level 1, thus the percentiles associated with scores below 800 are quite low. For example, a 750 on Math Level 2 ranks in the 68th percentile.
If you're not a complete natural at math and standardized tests, you're probably better off preparing for and taking Math Level I, since you're more likely to achieve a higher percentile. This is especially true if you plan on applying to highly selective schools. Also, unless they specifically ask for Math Level 2, colleges don't look down on Math Level 1.
On the other hand, if your SAT Math score was almost perfect or you're getting top grades in an honors math class, you should take Math Level 2. Moreover, many engineering and architecture programs require Math Level 2.
The Biology Subject Test assesses your understanding of general biology at the college preparatory level, your recall and comprehension of the major concepts of biology, and your ability to apply the principles learned to solve specific problems in biology.
The Chemistry Subject Test measures your ability to organize and interpret results obtained by observation and experimentation. The test also assesses your aptitude for drawing conclusions and/or making inferences using experimental data, including data presented in graphic and/or tabular form.
The Physics Subject Test measures your ability to solve specific problems with the application of physical principles. The test also assesses your understanding of simple algebraic, trigonometric, and graphical relationships, the concepts of ratio and proportion, and how to apply these concepts to physics problems.
The United States History Subject Test assesses your familiarity with historical concepts, cause-and-effect relationships, geography, and other data necessary for interpreting and understanding major historical developments in U.S. History.
SThe World History Subject Test measures your understanding of key developments in global history, your use of basic historical techniques and terminology, and your aptitude for the critical analysis and interpretation of documented events. To learn more about SAT Subject Tests, visit the College Board.
Tests how well you can read and interpret literature. Questions focus on issues of theme, argument, tone, etc.
Math Level 1
Tests: Algebra, geometry, basic trigonometry, Algebraic functions, elementary statistics, logic, elementary number theory, and arithmetic and geometric sequences.
Math Level 2
Tests: Algebra, three-dimensional and coordinate geometry, Trigonometry, functions, probability, permutations, combinations, logic, proofs, elementary number theory, sequences, and limits.
Tests a student's reading ability in a specific language. "Language with Listening" tests examine reading and listening skills. Languages available for testing include: French, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Korean.
Try these problems from four of the most popular SAT Subject Tests. To see the answers, go to the bottom of the page.
Answers are below. How did you do? It's not too late to work with a tutor to get a better grasp on content and learn our exclusive test-taking strategies.
SAT Subject Tests are either required or recommended at approximately 160 elite private schools. Some schools ask for Subject Tests only if you take the SAT, while some want to see them whether you choose the SAT or the ACT. To find a school's policy on Subject Tests, visit the admissions page of its website.
If a college recommends but does not require Subject Tests, we advise you to take them. Other applicants will submit scores, and you don't want to be at a competitive disadvantage for not having done so.
If a school does not require Subject Tests, you should find out whether it will consider your scores as an enhancement to your application. If so, you should take Subject Tests in your strongest subjects. Also, note that many schools require Subject Tests from homeschooled students.
Some schools require specific Subject Tests for general admission or for admission to a particular program. Most schools, however, do not express a preference. In that case, you should take whichever test(s) will showcase your academic strengths. If you are doing well in U.S. History, take the U.S. History test; if you are rocking AP Biology, take the Subject Test in Biology, and so on. However, it is important to check with each school to find out if it prefers to see Subject Tests from a variety of disciplines (i.e., not all science or social studies).
Most high school courses do not cover all the content that's tested on SAT Subject Tests. In addition, the questions may be presented in a different way than what you're used to seeing on school tests. Get an edge by preparing with our SAT Subject experts. You'll master all the topics tested on your exam and learn problem-solving and time-management techniques designed to help you become a better test taker and to significantly improve your score.
To see what content is tested on each Subject Test, click on the links below:
Math Level 1
Math Level 2
Chinese with Listening
French with Listening
German with Listening
Japanese with Listening
Korean with Listening
Spanish with Listening
Generally, the best time to take Subject Tests is right after you finish the corresponding academic course in school, when the material is still fresh in your mind. This means in May or June. However, you might want to individualize this timeline based on your academic performance, college goals, schedule and test-taking ability. Here are some things to keep in mind:
The typical testing timeline
Most juniors take the SAT in March or the ACT in April. If you follow this timeline, you should take your SAT Subject Test(s) in June while you're also preparing for finals.
If you're planning to take both the AP Exam and Subject Test for the same course, we suggest sitting for the Subject Test as close to the AP Exam date as possible (either before or after).
If you're thinking of taking the June ACT, keep in mind that the SAT Subject Tests and ACT test dates are only one week apart. Preparing for two standardized tests and school finals at the same time can be quite challenging even for students with terrific time-management skills.
Are you a freshman or a sophomore? June is the best time for SAT Subject Tests.
Your level of expertise
If you consider yourself an expert in the subject you're taking—perhaps you speak French fluently—you can take the Subject Test on any SAT test date except in March. This means you can get it out of the way early or save it for senior year (if you're sure you won't need to take the SAT again then).
On the other hand, if you're not fully prepared to take a particular Subject Test in May or June, you can prepare over the summer and take it in the fall.
College applications due dates
Early decision/action applications are typically due at the beginning of November. This means you need to be done with your admissions exams by September (ACT) or October (SAT and SAT Subject Tests).
Regular decision applications are typically due at the end of the year or in early January, which means you can take advantage of the November (ACT) and December (SAT) test dates. But do you really want to juggle standardized tests, schoolwork and your college applications at the same time? Try to complete all your testing as early as possible in the fall!
SAT Subject Tests are offered six times per year in October, November, December, January, May and June. You need to choose a subject when you register, but you may change which test(s) you actually take on test day.
You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test date, but you can't take the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT on the same day.
To register, go to CollegeBoard.org or call 866-630-9305. To register by mail, fill out the registration form in the College Board's Bulletin for the SAT Program. You can get a free copy of this publication from your school's guidance counselor or you can call the College Board and they'll send you one free of charge.
Even though they're not required by colleges, AP courses are a great opportunity to challenge yourself academically and beef up your applications. A good score on an AP Exams shows that you have mastered college-level content and can even earn you credit at many colleges, allowing you to graduate early and lower your tuition. Keep in mind that every school has a different AP policy. Some won't accept credit unless you score a 5, others will accept a 4 and some won't accept it at all. Be sure to check with your top schools to understand how they handle AP scores. But even if you cannot obtain credit, taking AP courses and AP Exams shows admissions officers that you've taken the most challenging courses available to you and are ready to handle college-level work.
Students in AP courses: If you are doing well in an AP course for which there is a corresponding SAT Subject Test, definitely take both. While the AP content is more advanced than the Subject Test content, there is substantial overlap as well. As Subject Tests are required by many schools, it makes sense to take a Subject Test if you are studying the content in an AP course anyway.
Students with expertise: If you are not enrolled in an AP course but have college-level expertise in that subject, take the AP Exam and the Subject Test. For example, if you took a summer college course in biology, you should take the Subject Test in the fall and the AP Exam the following May (APs are only offered then) as long as you are willing to put in the time to review the content before the exam.
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