What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Why Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

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The college application is a complicated recipe. Start with your transcripts and GPA, add a dash of teacher recommendations and a few pinches of extracurriculars, whisk in some SAT or ACT scores, and top with your personal essay. Indeed, there are many ingredients to the college application.


One that sometimes gets overlooked or discounted is the SAT Subject Test, formerly known as the SAT II. Many students wonder, what is an SAT Subject Test and why should I take them? Others struggle to decide which subject tests will best complement their applications. In this post, we outline the purpose of the SAT Subject Tests and explain why they are a great addition to any college application.



What Are SAT Subject Tests?

While SATs are designed to measure your reasoning skills and overall college readiness, SAT Subject Tests are designed to assess your knowledge in specific subject areas. These subject areas are aligned with common high school courses and generally test high level high school skills and knowledge.


As of this printing, SAT Subject Tests are available in 21 different subject areas. Generally, you as the student get to decide which ones you take. All are multiple-choice and each one takes an hour. SAT Subject Tests are administered on the same days as the SAT with the exception of the March SAT, when no Subject Tests are available. Not all subjects are available on every testing day. For example, language tests with a listening element are offered only in November. You’ll need to head over to the CollegeBoard’s SAT Subject Test Dates to learn which subject tests are available when.


Different SAT Subject Tests have different formats, and you should know what to expect going into each one. To learn more about the formats specific to each, check out the CollegeBoard’s Subject Areas overview.



SAT Subject Tests May Be Required By Some Colleges

One primary reason to take SAT Subject Tests is that some colleges require them of applicants. These requirements vary broadly so you’ll need to be absolutely certain that you check for each of the schools to which you intend to apply.


At some colleges, a certain number of SAT Subject Tests are required, but no guidance is given about which tests to submit. In this case, you will be able to choose the tests that best highlight your skills and interests on your college application.


Other colleges require specific SAT Subject Tests. These are most commonly in the STEM fields, though if you are applying to a specific major or program, you might find that you’re required to submit the associated SAT Subject Test scores.


Finally, some colleges require SAT Subject Tests only from students who take the SAT rather than the ACT. The ACT is distinctly different from the SAT in that it includes a science section. Because the SAT does not include a science section, some colleges require students who submit SAT scores to submit a science SAT Subject Test score as well.


Again, the requirements for SAT Subject Tests have a huge range depending on which schools you’re applying to. Research these requirements ahead of time so that you’re not stuck in a lurch when you realize that you need to squeeze them in at the last minute.

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SAT Subject Test Scores Can Set You Apart in a Selective Pool of Applicants

Remember, college admissions can be a very competitive challenge. You need to find every way possible to set yourself apart. SAT Subject Tests can be viewed as another opportunity to establish yourself as one of the top applicants.


Think of it this way:  when two applications arrive with similar SAT scores, similar GPAs and transcripts, and similar teacher recommendations, there needs to be some defining characteristic that sets one above the other. If you can present shining SAT Subject Tests that back up your interests and skills, you’ll have another element on your application to set yourself apart.



SAT Subject Tests Can Confirm Your Skills in Specific Fields of Study

SAT Subject Tests are particularly helpful if you’re aiming for a specific major or applying to a specific program of study. Because they are targeted towards specific subject areas, you get to choose precisely which fields you draw attention to on your application.


If you intend to apply as a history major, taking the US History and World History SAT Subject Tests is a great idea. If you want to be an engineering major, Math 2 and Physics are great choices. By taking the SAT Subject Tests most closely aligned with your intended field of study, you establish your skills and knowledge in the subject area and demonstrate your level of commitment to the field.


Alternatively, if you’re applying to a liberal arts school or you have yet to decide on an intended field of study, you can take SAT Subject Tests that demonstrate your knowledge in a broad variety of subject areas. By taking, for example, the English Literature SAT Subject Test paired with the Chemistry and Latin tests, you showcase your versatility and broad range of abilities across multiple fields.



When Should I Take SAT Subject Tests?

You should plan to take your SAT Subject Tests as close to the completion of the related high school classes as possible. This means that you don’t necessarily want to wait until junior year to take SAT Subject Tests. If you take Biology during your sophomore year, you should consider taking the Biology SAT Subject Test as close to the end of sophomore year as possible.


Of course, you’ll also need to consider which dates you’ll be taking the SAT. You can’t take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day, but you can take up to three SAT Subject Tests at a time.


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


Complete List of SAT Subject Tests.

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

ACT vs SAT/SAT Subject Tests

Two Birds, One Stone: Can You Study for the APs and SAT IIs At The Same Time?


To learn more about SAT prep, see these posts:


Five SAT Strategies You Should Know

10 Tips to Prepare for the SAT

Tips to Prepare Yourself for Your SAT Test Day

How Your SAT Score Impacts Your College Admissions

What Is a Good SAT Score in 2018?


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


Want to know how your SAT score/ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

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.