What SAT IIs Should You Take if You’re Undecided?
You may think that if you’re undecided about your major, then it’s not worth taking SAT IIs. After all, your regular SAT score is already an indicator of your academic potential, so why prove your mastery in a specialized subject?
However, by taking a diverse combination of SAT IIs, undecided students can demonstrate their versatility and show that they can handle the challenge of a college course load. Not only that, but your performance on the SAT IIs might clue you in to one of your strengths, so that you can narrow down the types of majors you’re looking at.
In general, we recommend that you take SAT IIs that play to your strengths, while choosing SAT IIs from a variety of areas to show that you could do well in any major. Here’s what you need to know to decide on SAT IIs to take.
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, but since you’re undecided, you’ll want to go for a broad range of subjects and take a few different SAT IIs to show that you’re ready for any major.
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 Undecided Students Take?
Your ultimate goal is to maximize flexibility; colleges need to be convinced that you will be successful regardless of the major you choose. You’ll need to plan which tests to take in coordination with satisfying college admissions requirements, so be sure to do some research about the schools you’re interested in and what, if any SAT IIs they require. Here are some examples:
- Harvard recommends that students take SAT IIs but doesn’t require them.
- MIT requires a math and a science SAT II for all students regardless of major.
- NYU allows students to submit 3 SAT IIs in lieu of SAT/ACT scores. If you choose this option, you need to take one from the math and sciences, one from literature or the humanities, and a third of your choice.
- Stanford doesn’t require them, but will consider SAT IIs along with other exams such as AP/IB scores.
Always make sure that you’re satisfying the admissions requirements first before you apply any of the advice below.
We recommend that you take 3 tests in a range of subjects to show your versatility, such as one math, one science, and one humanities. However, if you’re having trouble scoring well across multiple categories, then this could be a sign that your major should hone in on the type of test you did well on, such as STEM or humanities. Many schools offer options such as undecided—sciences or undecided—arts as a way for students to indicate this preference without forcing you to commit to a single major.
How to Decide Between SAT IIs
One strategy is to look at the five top-level categories of SAT II and pick a test from three different categories. We encourage you to choose one math, one science, and one humanities, but the most important thing is to choose subjects you feel strong in. Your past academic performance might indicate whether that’s a subject test you should take or not.
For the humanities, choose the one (or two) categories you’re strongest in.
- English: There is only one option in this category, and it emphasizes literature and literary analysis. If you’ve done well in your English classes or enjoy analyzing literature, you may want to go for this option.
- History: There are two options, either U.S. History or World History. If you choose this category, choose the type of history you know more about.
- Languages: There are nine language options including Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Japanese, and Korean, and some have speaking/auditory components and others don’t. You should only choose this option you are very strong in one of these languages; many native speakers opt for the language SAT IIs, so you may be at a disadvantage if you are a foreign language learner.
For Math, choose either Level 1 or Level 2—there’s no advantage to taking both. 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?
For Science, choose the subject that you have taken or excelled in during high school. You can choose from Physics, Chemistry, Biology E or Biology M. We probably don’t need to explain Physics or Chemistry, but here’s the difference between Biology E and M:
- 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
Because you’re undecided, you have a little more room to choose SAT IIs based on your preferences. If you need more help deciding, you can also find free practice resources for every SAT II at College Board. Trying sample tests is one of the best ways to determine if a test is good fit for you.
Wrapping it Up
Although we recommend that you take one science, one math, and one humanities SAT II, 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.
For more posts about preparing for college, check out:
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