What SAT IIs Should You Take for STEM/Engineering Majors?
For many students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) majors, you may find that the regular SAT or ACT doesn’t show off your academic strengths completely. You’ve probably gone above what you needed to satisfy high school graduation, and you can handle greater academic challenges beyond the general math covered on standardized tests.
SAT IIs can help you stand out from other STEM applicants and demonstrate your capability for a challenging but rewarding major. Read on to find out CollegeVine’s top advice about what the best SAT IIs are for STEM/Engineering majors.
What are SAT IIs?
SAT IIs, also known as SAT Subject tests, are a set of standardized tests that cover subjects commonly covered in high school. They’re divided in five general categories:
- Foreign Languages
Every SAT II is a multiple choice test that takes about an hour to complete, and students earn scores between 200 to 800. As you probably guessed, 800 is the highest score you can achieve, so that’s the score to aim for!
SAT IIs are offered on the same days and often the same locations as the SAT. While you can take up to three SAT IIs on the same day, you can’t take both the SAT and an SAT II. For more information about when the SAT IIs are offered, check out our post SAT Subject Test Dates and Deadlines for 2018-2019.
While some colleges require SAT IIs, most only recommend these tests. Many top schools consider SAT II scores in addition to the rest of your academic profile, so SAT IIs can help you stand out from other college applicants and demonstrate your academic strength in specific subjects not covered on the SAT. For many students, SAT IIs show that they’re ready for their intended major, as long as you choose SAT IIs that align with your major. For STEM majors, you’ll want to focus on Math and Science SAT IIs.
Some schools may use SAT IIs for particular applicants or use them outside of their general admissions. For example, some schools might place you in higher-level courses based on your SAT II scores, so you can take more interesting, specialized classes offered to upperclassmen. Many schools also ask that international, bilingual/ESL students, and homeschooled students take SAT IIs to show that their education was on par with a U.S. high school education and that they’re ready for college.
What SAT IIs Should Future STEM Students Take?
First things first, you want to make sure that you’re satisfying any college or major-specific requirements from your school. Some schools requires certain SAT IIs while others only recommend them. Here are a few examples of different SAT II policies from top STEM schools:
- MIT requires a math and a science for all students.
- CalTech used to require Math 2 and a science, but eliminated the requirement in January 2020.
- Johns Hopkins doesn’t require SAT IIs.
- Georgia Tech doesn’t require SAT IIs, but will consider them along with AP/IB exam scores.
As you can see, you’ll need to do some research into the schools you’re interested in and make note of their requirements.
Beyond what’s required from the school, we recommend that STEM/engineering students take one or two sciences, one math, and one humanities SAT II. This advice goes for schools that don’t require SAT IIs, since they will often consider these scores as a supplement to the rest of your application, and they’ll help you stand out from students who provided the minimum score requirements.
As the name implies, most STEM majors draw heavily from scientific concepts and skills, so we recommend that you take at least one, if not two science SAT IIs. In general, use your best judgment about the type of science most commonly used by your intended degree program. Here are a few common examples of majors and their corresponding science:
For Engineering: You’ll probably want to take Physics, since most degree programs require several classes from higher-level Physics
For degrees like Public Health, Microbiology, or Environmental Science: Take Biology. The Biology SAT II has two options, either E or M. The first 60 questions on both E and M are identical, and only the last 20 specialize in a particular type of biology.
- You should take E if you feel more comfortable answering questions about ecology, evolution, and diversity.
- You should take M if you feel confident answering questions about biochemistry, cellular structure, and biological processes such as respiration and photosynthesis.
For Chemistry: Taking the Chemistry SAT II might be on-the-nose, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most relevant to your major.
Many STEM majors combine elements of multiple sciences, which is when you may want to take two Science SAT II. Using the above examples, you can probably figure out which two sciences are the most useful, or find the degree program requirements and see what kinds of science classes are required.
For example, you can break down hybrid majors like biochemistry and chemical engineering just by looking at their names: biochemistry is biology and chemistry, and chemical engineering is chemistry and physics.
Virtually every STEM major requires significant levels of advanced math, and taking one of the Math SAT IIs is a great way to show that you have more significant preparation in math beyond what’s on the regular SAT.
There are two options for Math: either level 1 or 2. There’s no advantage to taking both, although some schools will specify if they prefer one over the other. Always go with what the school recommends first.
If your school has no explicit preference, then you’ll need to decide which Math is better suited to your skillset. In general, Level 1 covers more “basic” high school math and is appropriate if you’ve had at least two years of algebra and one year of geometry. If you have two years of algebra and one year of geometry and have taken Trig or PreCalc, then you may want to take Level 2. We covered this in more detail in our post Which SAT II Math Should You Take?
While Science and Math SAT IIs are directly relevant to STEM majors, many students might be surprised to see that we recommend a humanities exam. However, many schools want to know that their students can perform well across academic disciplines, and this is especially true if you’re aiming for a top 40 university or liberal arts college. It’s also a way to make yourself stand out from other applicants, who tend to have heavily STEM-oriented test profiles.
As a reminder, you should pay attention to your school’s requirements and recommendations first when it comes to which humanities test to take. Some schools, while not requiring a humanities SAT II, may explicitly recommend a certain type, such as a foreign language.
If there is no requirement or explicit recommendation, then you should go for the type of test you think you would do best in—either English, history, or a foreign language. The point is to show off your strengths, so if you really feel that you won’t score well in one of these areas, you may not want to take these exams and focus on highlighting your other strengths.
College Board also offers free free practice resources for every SAT II, so we encourage you to take a look at their sample questions and what each test covers. The best way to determine which test works best for you is to take a practice test and see how well you do, so make sure you spend some time reviewing your options before making a final decision about whether you’ll take a humanities SAT II.
Wrapping it Up
Nothing replaces doing your own research into programs you’re interested in. Make sure to follow the information on the admissions website to the letter, and if you’re ever unsure about something on the admissions website, don’t be afraid to contact that school directly for clarification.
The best way to prepare for the SAT IIs is to take challenging courses in high school. These tests evaluate how well you learned from your classes in high school, so by pushing yourself to do well in all of your classes you can demonstrate your academic readiness for college.
If you want more tips on preparing for the SAT, download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
Check out our other posts about STEM and engineering!
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