The SAT IIs, also known as the SAT Subject Tests, are a series of standardized tests developed by the College Board for high school students to test their preparation for college. The SAT IIs differ from the SAT I in that each SAT II evaluates a student on just one subject. Each hour-long multiple-choice test is scored on a scale from 200 to 800. As of early 2016, there are 20 different SAT II tests available in 5 general subject areas. Below are the subject tests, grouped according to subject area:

  • Mathematics: Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2
  • History: U.S. History, World History
  • Science: Biology E/M (Ecological/Molecular), Physics, Chemistry
  • English: Literature
  • Languages: Spanish, Spanish with Listening, French, French with Listening, German, German with Listening, Chinese with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Italian, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening

As you can see, there are numerous options for which SAT IIs to take; how do you know which ones are right for you? Below, we break down which questions you should be asking yourself and offer some tips for selecting the right SAT IIs for you.

What do your colleges require?

Compile a list of the SAT II requirements for each college to which you’re applying. Remember that it’s still okay to take a subject test that is not required by your college(s); this is recommended, in fact, if you’ve performed well at the particular subject you’re considering. Another thing to remember is that you need not take all your required SAT subject tests in one sitting; it may be best for most students to take only 1-2 subject tests that they have prepared for in advance. (*Note: On the day of your SAT II, your proctor will announce that you are allowed to add more SAT II’s to take in that one sitting if you wish to do so. This is not recommended, as adding a test last-minute means that you have not had time to prepare. However, if you feel comfortable and prepared for an extra test, go for it. From a financial standpoint, you will still have to pay for any test you add on, so you won’t be saving any money if you choose to do so.)

Which subjects are freshest in your mind (e.g. courses you’ve taken recently)?

Sometimes, students will decide to take an SAT II for a course that they took 3 years ago, do considerably worse than they had imagined, and then wonder why they received such a score. While the lucky among us are able to retain information even years later, as a general rule for the majority, you should not take a test for a subject you learned so many years ago. Try to take align your SAT IIs with courses you’ve recently taken. For instance, maybe you took an AP Chemistry course at your school during junior year and are looking to take your SAT IIs during the fall of your senior year. Taking the SAT II Chemistry test is probably your best bet. (Oftentimes, AP courses overlap in material with their SAT II counterparts. Click here to learn how to study for one of these tests but be prepared for two.)

Which subjects apply to your interests and future goals?

If you hope to become a molecular biologist in the future, it may be best to take a math, biology, or chemistry SAT II. If you hope to become a translator in the future, definitely take a test in the language that you want to specialize in (the English literature test may also be very helpful in this case). A general rule is that you should take an exam that will apply to your professional goals, as these subjects are most relevant for colleges to view (such tests may be required of you, anyway, given that colleges usually ask for your prospective major).

What subjects come naturally to you?

Say you’re applying to a STEM school as an engineering major. If this is the case, then it’s crucial to demonstrate your mastery in math and science subject areas.  Of course, such subjects should come naturally to an engineering major, so they are the ones for which you should be taking your SAT II tests. Your expertise should more easily shine through this way.

But in addition to the tests that correlate to your interests, consider this: If you’re applying to a school that is highly concentrated in one subject, you may be able to stand out by showing your skills in another subject or area. Let’s say that you’re applying to this same STEM-concentrated school. Compared to a less math- or science-based school, this school’s applicants are generally likely to be less skilled at English or the humanities. So, if you are particularly skilled at English or the humanities, then now’s your time to shine! Take a unique non-science/math subject test to stand. It’ll show that you’re very well-rounded, which is a trait that colleges look for during the admissions process.

As we said in the first paragraph, however—do keep in mind that you should first show your expertise in the most relevant subject areas to your major and future.

What classes did you do well in?

And finally, though this may sound like a no-brainer, only take the SAT II for subjects you did well in. Even if the colleges you’re applying to have rigid SAT II requirements, most offer you some flexibility within those requirements. For instance, most colleges will not say “we need you to take the Biology E/M exam.” Instead, they may say “one of your SAT II’s must be a math OR science test, and the other should be an English OR social studies test.” Within these requirements, it’s your job to choose the tests on which you’ll perform the best.


Armed with this guide, we’re confident you’ll feel better prepared in choosing the SAT IIs you’ll take. After you’ve selected the ideal test(s) for you, it’ll be time to hit the books and to make sure that you prepare in advance for your exam. Good luck!

Our SAT II tutors studied at top schools and are experts in their subject areas—learn more about our SAT II tutoring services.



Ruth Xing

Ruth Xing

Applications Manager at CollegeVine
Ruth is a student at Cornell University studying Math, English, and Music. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as Applications Manager and enjoys helping students achieve their unique ideas of success.
Ruth Xing