SAT Subject Tests are the icing on the cake of your college admission exams experience! Taking a few of the SAT Subject Tests is a great way to 1) demonstrate your proficiency in the subject areas that you intend to pursue in college and 2) either reinforce the solid grades that your received your junior and senior years or compensate for not so solid grades.
Schools use these tests to better understand your strengths (and to contextualize your grades), to assess how ready you are for college level work in these subjects, and to make admissions decisions.
There are 20 SAT Subject Tests that fall into five categories: English, Math, Science, History, and Languages. All of the tests are content-based, hour-long assessments that consist of multiple-choice questions.
SAT Subject Test Scoring
Like each section of the SAT, each SAT Subject Test is scored on a 200-800 point scale. Here’s how the raw score is calculated:
- One point is added for each correct answer
- No points are deducted for unanswered questions
- A fraction of a point is subtracted for wrong answers: 1/4 point for five-choice questions, 1/3 point for four-choice questions, and 1/2 point for three-choice questions
The total value of incorrectly answered questions is subtracted from the total value of correctly answered questions. If the resulting score is a fraction, it is rounded to the nearest whole number — 1/2 or more is rounded up; less than 1/2 is rounded down. Finally, the raw score is converted to your 200-800 score.
Key Takeaway: Because points are deducted for incorrect answers, it’s important that you make strategic guesses when necessary. Make a strategic guess only if you can eliminate at least one answer for three-choice and four-choice questions and at least two answers for five-choice questions. Oftentimes, you may be able to deduce the correct answer by eliminating several incorrect answers.
Must I Take SAT Subject Tests?
Once you’ve finalized the list of colleges that will receive your glorious application, be sure to note which schools require SAT Subject Tests, which recommend SAT Subject Tests, and which do not recommend SAT Subject Tests.
Colleges that require SAT Subject Tests: These schools explicitly state how many SAT Subject Tests they expect you to take. Some of them even require certain tests. MIT, for example, requires its applicants to take one of the Math SAT Subject Tests (either Level 1 or Level 2) and one of the Science SAT Subjects Tests (Physics, Chemistry or Biology) Other schools that require at least one SAT Subject Test include Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Amherst College, Boston College, and Bryn Mawr.
Colleges that recommend SAT Subject Tests: Think of the recommendation as a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink: you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t take SAT Subject Tests. Stanford University recommends (but does not require) that its applicants “submit official results of at least two SAT Subject Tests.” For schools like Stanford, which has a 6.6% admittance rate, you’re essentially putting yourself out of the running unless you take at least two SAT Subject Tests. For schools that have higher admittance rates, taking SAT Subject Tests is not so critical but it is always helpful. Think of the recommendation as that school’s way of detecting applicants that are truly serious students committed to going above and beyond and those that are not. Other schools that recommend SAT Subject Tests include the University of Alberta, Chapman University, John Hopkins University, Emory University, and Northwestern.
Colleges that do not recommend SAT Subject Tests: You need not worry about taking the subject tests… unless of course you got a C in Math but know, unlike everyone else, that you’re a math genius of the likes of Einstein. In this case (and in others where you feel that your grades don’t reflect your abilities) solid SAT Subject Test scores may significantly enhance your application.
Key Takeaway: Colleges and universities can change their requirements as often as they like. Some that require, recommend, and do not recommend SAT Subject Tests one year can change their requirements another year. For the most current information about the requirements for a specific college or university, check with the admissions office to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information. Better safe and prepared than sorry!
SAT Subject Tests Outlined
Visit the College Board for descriptions of each subject test and to Try Out Real SAT Subject Test Questions. Here is a quick outline of each test:
English – Literature
The Literature SAT Subject Test gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your strengths in reading comprehension and literary analysis.
History – U.S. History and World History
The History SAT Subject Tests give you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of either World or U.S. History.
Math – Mathematics Level 1 and Mathematics Level 2
The Mathematics Level 1 SAT Subject Test assesses your knowledge of algebra and geometry – two years of algebra and one year of geometry is required. The Mathematics Level 2 Subject Test covers the same material presented on the Mathematics Level 1 test as well as trigonometry and pre-calculus.
Science – Biology, Chemistry and Physics
The Biology, Chemistry, and Physics Subject Tests assess your understanding of the major concepts in these three fields. If you are interested in pursuing a career in engineering or science, taking one or more of these tests is a good way to demonstrate that you’re serious about and proficient in your intended field.
Languages – Chinese with Listening, French, French with Listening, German, German with Listening, Italian, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening, Latin, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Spanish with Listening
The SAT Subject Tests in various languages allow you to demonstrate your understanding of the written form of that language. If you choose to take the test with listening, you will also be able to showcase your verbal facility in that language.
The What & When of SAT Subject Tests
Now that you know how important SAT Subjects Tests are, you may be wondering how to choose which ones to take. It’s pretty easy: Take the SAT Subject Tests that cover your strengths and interests so that your scores reflect your aptitude. But remember, some colleges require that you take specific tests, so visit their websites to make sure you meet all of the requirements.
Believe it or not, timing is everything: Take the SAT Subject Tests when the content is fresh! It’s best to sit for the subject tests soon after you complete the corresponding courses in high school. For example, if you plan to take AP Chemistry during your junior year, plan to take the Chemistry SAT Subject Test during the spring of your junior year or early summer. There’s no reason to wait with SAT Subject Tests.
Quick Tip: Consider taking the SAT Subject Tests that correspond to your AP classes. Most of you attend schools that require you to take AP exams for your AP classes, so why not take the SAT test for that same subject? The preparation for AP exams is only slightly different from the preparation required for the SAT Subject Tests. Save yourself time and energy and pair your AP classes with subject tests.
SAT Subject Test scores are valid until you graduate, so don’t worry about expiring test scores. Finally, before you take the SAT Subject Tests, make sure you work through sample problems and take practice tests available through the College Board.
Remember the 4P’s: Plan, Prepare, Practice, and Perform. Regardless of the subject tests you choose to take, high scores will impress admissions advisers, and you will stand out from your peers!