SAT Subject Tests: Answers to Our Most Frequently Asked Questions
In general, we at CollegeVine find that SAT Subject Tests are less thoroughly understood than ACTs or SATs. They are often a source of questions due to their nature—far fewer students take SAT Subject Tests, and because there are so many offered, the number of students taking each one is diluted.
In this post, we take on the questions we hear most about SAT Subject Tests. If you’re contemplating one, don’t miss these frequently asked questions.
What are subject tests?
Beginning in 1937, the College Board began to offer a series of subject-specific standardized tests. These were first known as Achievement Tests, then as SAT II: Subject Tests, and they are now simply called SAT Subject Tests. Each SAT Subject Test is a multiple-choice test administered over the course of one hour. When taken strategically, these tests serve to improve your chance at admission to colleges by highlighting unique subject-specific knowledge that might otherwise not be apparent. There are currently 20 different SAT Subject Tests to choose from.
Who needs to take subject tests?
SAT Subject Test requirements vary according to which schools you’re applying to, and sometimes according to which programs you’re applying to as well. You’ll need to carefully review the testing requirements at the schools that you’re applying to to determine if and how many SAT Subject Tests you’ll need to take.
Sometimes students who take the ACT are not required to submit SAT Subject Tests, but those who take the SAT might be required to submit an SAT Subject Test in the sciences to make up for the lack of science content on the SAT.
Even if you aren’t required to submit SAT Subject Tests, it can be a good idea if you are trying to establish an area of specialty or apply to a specialized program. Taking SAT Subject Tests can demonstrate your strengths in specific areas.
To learn more about which schools require SAT Subject Tests, see our post These Colleges Require SAT Subject Tests.
What are the keys to success on subject tests?
Unlike the SAT, SAT Subject Tests include content that is specific to certain high school level classes. For this reason, our number one tip for success is to take the SAT Subject Test as soon as possible after you complete your highest level of coursework in that subject area. If you take AP Biology as a 10th grader, take the Biology SAT Subject Test during the spring of 10th grade. If you wait until 11th grade, you are likely to lose some of the knowledge you used to have.
For more tips on preparing for SAT Subject Tests see our post 5 Strategies for Tackling SAT Subject Tests.
How important are subject tests?
The importance of SAT Subject Tests varies according to the specific colleges and programs you’re applying to. If you want to get into a highly specialized program, like MIT’s engineering program, your Physics SAT Subject Test might be especially important. On the other hand, if you’re applying under general admissions to a liberal arts college, they might be more interested in how well rounded you are as a student.
How many subject tests should you take?
You don’t need to take many subject tests. Schools that require them generally don’t require no more than two. If you plan ahead to accommodate the application requirements of different colleges and programs, you can usually get away with only taking two or three SAT Subject Tests. We’ve found that taking many more can be a waste of prep time and can cause unnecessary stress.
What subject tests should you choose?
Which tests you take will depend on the application requirements of the specific programs and colleges you’re planning to apply to. Generally, if you are applying under a general education program, it’s a good idea to take a wide variety of tests that includes one in the humanities, one in math or science, and one foreign language.
For more about choosing SAT Subject Tests, don’t miss our post Choosing the Right SAT IIs for You.
Is it okay to take a subject test more than once?
Just like with SATs, many students take SAT Subject Tests more than once. The trick is making sure that you retain subject-specific knowledge in between test administrations, which can be hard if you are no longer fresh out of a high school class related to the subject area.
Do you have to report all your subject test scores to colleges?
With Score Choice, you can choose which scores you submit. Unlike with SAT exams, you do not have to submit all your scores from a single test day. Instead, you can pick and choose exactly which SAT Subject Test scores you send, thereby maximizing your opportunity to highlight areas of strength. If you perform poorly on an SAT Subject Test, you don’t have to send the score to anyone. On the other hand, if you perform exceptionally well, it would be silly not to include that score on your college applications, whether it’s required or not.
How many subject tests can you take on a single test date? Can you change your mind after you register?
You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single day, and when you register you will select which you’ll be taking. These decisions are not binding, though, and you are able to change your mind on test day, since all tests are contained in a single test booklet. You are also able to add another test, if you registered for fewer than three.
Keep in mind that if you do add tests on test day, you will be billed for them later; however, you will not be reimbursed for any tests that you registered for but chose not to take on test day. The only test that cannot be added on test day is a Language Test with Listening, since this requires additional equipment.
It is also important to know that once you begin to take a test, you can no longer change your mind. Even if you only fill in one answer, the entire test will be scored (and as you can imagine, you won’t do well).
If you are taking more than one subject test on a date, do you choose the order?
Yes. Because all of the tests are contained within the same test booklet, you can choose the order in which you take them.
What is a good score on a subject test?
SAT Subject Tests are scored on the same scale as a single section of the SAT. Your score will range from 200-800, and what qualifies as a good score will vary according to what test you took and what types of schools or programs you’re trying to get in to.
Usually if you go to the admissions page of the colleges you want to attend, you’ll be able to find test score statistics from previous admitted students. If you can score in the top 50% of prior test scores, you’re doing well. If you can score in the top 25% or even 10%, you’re doing great.
What do percentiles tell you?
Test score percentiles give you a way to measure your success against others taking the exam. If you score in the 75th percentile, that means that your score is likely higher than 75% of your peers. However, due to slight differences in test difficulty and in the testing population from one test to another, percentiles are not calculated based on actual peer performance on each test, but instead have been derived from extensive research studies.
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