What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Most likely, you are accustomed to hearing about the SAT as a singular test that is used by college admissions committees to gauge your college and career-readiness. In actuality though, the SAT isn’t just a standalone test. In fact, there is, as the College Board refers to it, an entire SAT Suite of Assessments, beginning with the PSAT 8/9 and progressing to the singular SAT test that you’ve undoubtedly heard so much about.


SAT assessments don’t end there, either.


Beginning in 1937, the College Board began to offer a series of subject-specific standardized tests. First known as Achievement Tests, then as SAT II: Subject Tests, they are now simply called SAT Subject Tests. Each SAT Subject Test is a multiple-choice test administered over the course of one hour, of which there are 20 to choose from. 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.



What SAT Subject Tests are available?

Currently, SAT Subject Tests are available for the following subjects:




  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2




  • Korean with Listening
  • Chinese with Listening
  • Spanish with Listening
  • French with Listening
  • German with Listening
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Latin



  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology – Ecological
  • Biology – Molecular



  • Literature



  • U.S. History
  • World History


These tests aim to highlight your strengths in areas that might be less obvious to college admissions committees. They are a great chance to draw attention to skills you’ve developed independently or to areas of your academic focus to which you’ve devoted extra time or dedication. SAT Subject Tests can also help to indicate your interests or intended path of study in higher education, and at some colleges can even help you to place out of introductory classes.


When are SAT Subject Tests?

We’ve mapped out all the dates for subject tests for 2018-2019. Check out test dates here, including registration dates.


Do I have to take SAT Subject Tests?

Short answer: no. SAT Subject Tests are not a graduation requirement and are not universally required for college admissions, so you do not technically have to take any of them. That being said, many colleges and universities will require SAT Subject Tests of some variety. There are several ways in which colleges use SAT Subject Tests as a part of their admissions procedures.


Some colleges might ask you to submit a specific number of SAT Subject Test scores, but they allow you to choose which tests you take. These colleges most likely want to see how well you perform in your strongest areas of interest.


Other colleges might specify exactly which SAT Subject Tests are required for admissions. These colleges place weight in certain subject areas and want to make sure that they have a standardized measurement of your performance within that content area. 


Finally, some colleges that don’t normally require subject tests for general admissions may still require specific SAT Subject Tests if you’re applying to a specific program at the school. For example, if you’re applying to a dedicated engineering program, you may be asked to submit a score from the Physics SAT Subject Test, or if you’re applying as a pre-med student you might need to submit a score from the Chemistry SAT Subject Test.


In any case, you’ll need to research the specific schools and programs to which you’re applying to make sure that you know the exact requirements of each.

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Should I take SAT Subject Tests even if they’re not required?

If the colleges or universities that you’re applying to don’t require SAT Subject Tests, you may be tempted to skip them altogether. After all, standardized tests can be a stressful experience even if they’re not required for admission. Remember, though, that the SAT Subject Tests bring benefits besides just filling a requirement.


College admissions can be a competitive game, and SAT Subject Tests can help to set you apart from the field. Just because the college you hope to attend does not require you to submit them for consideration, it does not mean that they are not considered at all if you choose to submit them anyway. In fact, admissions committees will still review your scores and use them to create a more complete picture of you as a candidate.


And remember, 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.


Further, SAT Subject Tests can draw attention to areas of strength that might not be readily apparent on the rest of your application. Do you speak a foreign language at home, attend summer programs for advanced sciences, or have a passion for U.S. History that you pursue outside of the classroom? Taking an SAT Subject Test is one way to show off the unique skills and understanding you have gained, in or out of the classroom. 


Last but not least, some colleges use SAT Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses when they matriculate. If this is the case at any of the schools you’re considering, make sure that you take the appropriate subject tests to get an appropriate class placement. You might even be able to place out of certain introductory requirements like foreign languages or mathematics.


For a list of colleges and universities that use SAT Subject Tests in some regard, check the College Board List of Institutions Using SAT Subject Test.   


What is the format of SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests are similar in format to individual sections of the SAT Test. They are all multiple-choice tests and they each take one hour to complete. Some tests, such as foreign language tests, contain a listening portion as well. SAT Subject Tests are scored on a scale from 200-800, just like the individual sections of the SAT.


When do SAT Subject Tests take place?

SAT Subject Tests are generally administered six times during each school year, on the same days and in the same test centers as the regular SAT. Keep in mind, though, that not all 20 Subject Tests are offered on every SAT date. At this time, Language with Listening Tests are only offered on the November test date, and several other tests also have limited availability.


Check the SAT Subject Test Calendar for specific dates and tests. Due to the limited dates on which some tests are available, it’s important to plan well ahead of time to make sure that you can schedule every test you want to take within the appropriate time frame.


How much do SAT Subject Tests cost?

There is a $26 flat registration fee for any administration of SAT Subject Tests. On top of the registration fee, you will pay $21 for each Subject Test you take on that day, or $26 for any Language Test with Listening. There may be other fees as well, such as late registration fees, registration by phone charges, or registration change fees. Fee waivers are available for qualifying students.   


How do I register for SAT Subject Tests?

The registration process for SAT Subject Tests is exactly the same as it is for the SAT. You may register online, by phone, or by mail. You can read more about how to register in CollegeVine’s How To Register For Your SATs.


One unique feature of SAT Subject Test registration is the flexibility it affords you on test day. You may take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test date, and when you register, you select which tests you’ll be taking. But these choices aren’t binding.


Because all tests are contained in one test booklet, you are allowed to change your mind on test day. You can add additional tests if you chose to register for fewer than three, or you may choose to take fewer tests if you change your mind. 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’t decide not to take it. Even if you only fill in one answer, the entire test will be scored (and as you can imagine, you won’t do well).


The only way to avoid this would be to cancel all of the tests that you took that day. Think carefully through which tests you want to take and don’t be tempted to change your mind in a split second decision with the test booklet in front of you. While it’s smart to maximize your time and money by taking three SAT Subject Tests on a single day, only do this if you’ve prepared for them and know that your endurance won’t suffer on the third test.


Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.


To learn more about the SAT or SAT Subject Tests, check out these CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.