What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, as are the deadlines for signing up for the May and June SATs, we wanted to remind people what the SAT Subject Tests are and which colleges require them. We’ve previously posted this article but consider this topic especially relevant at this time of year. Enjoy!

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

You may or may not be aware that College Board offers SAT Subject Tests. These are short, one-hour exams that test your knowledge in specific areas. We’ve compiled a table of every Subject Test offered below:

Math Level 1 Math Level 2
US History World History
Biology Chemistry
Physics Literature
Spanish French
Chinese Italian
German Hebrew
Latin Japanese

As you can see, there are quite a few Subject Tests available to you that cover a wide variety of topics. In terms of content, you can think of these Subject Tests as mini AP Exams. The two exams cover essentially the same material, but Subject Tests are only one hour long each, compared to the behemoths that are AP exams.

When Should I Take Subject Tests?

Since Subject Tests cover the same material as AP exams, we highly recommend you take the corresponding Subject Tests immediately after you finish the relevant AP course. Even though Subject Tests are shorter in time length, they cover the same broad range of material, so it’s vitally important that you’re on top of your game when taking these tests. If you wait a year to take a Subject Test, you might find yourself rushing to re-learn all of the material because let’s admit it: you totally brain-dumped your AP Chem material after the last final.

What Schools Require Subject Tests?

In general, top private universities require subject tests while public universities only recommend them.
In general, top private universities require subject tests while public universities only recommend them.

In general, Ivy League universities and similar top tier schools, like MIT, Stanford, Duke, UChicago, Rice, and Hopkins, will require at least two Subject Tests. Check with the individual schools you’re looking at, but any top-25 school is likely to require two subject tests. Further, these schools want to see Subject Tests that line up with your proposed field of study. If you’re planning on being an engineer, schools want to see Math Level 2 and Physics and not necessarily Hebrew. If you’re planning on majoring in English, schools want to see Literature and perhaps World History. The bottom line is you want to use these Subject Tests to prove to schools that you’re competent in the areas that you’re intending to pursue.

One important note: these schools will typically only require two Subject Test scores, but if at all possible it is a good idea to complete and submit competitive scores for at least three. In our experience, the students that submit three instead of two scores have a higher rate of admission. Think of it like this – in the context of admission to any Ivy League school, you do not not want to just meet the minimum requirements to be considered for admission, but exceed those requirements.

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In general, public schools will not require you to take a Subject Test for admissions. Even UCLA and UT, which are two of the top public schools in the nation, do not explicitly ask you take a Subject Test. However, doing well on a Subject Test can definitely boost your application and set you apart from individuals who might not have done so. If you’re confident in your abilities (i.e. got a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam), take that Subject Test and stand apart from the crowd!

What is a Good Score on a Subject Test?

In general, you want to shoot for a perfect 800. The Subject Tests are curiously weighted so that there’s a fairly broad range of raw scores that correspond to a perfect 800 scores– College Board understands that it’s difficult to complete so many questions in just an hour, so they make the grading scale a bit lenient. That doesn’t mean, however, that your 770 isn’t a good score. In general, anywhere from a 760-800 is good, but you definitely want to be as close to that 800 as you possibly can.

Which Math Subject Test should I take?

We highly recommend you take the Math Level 2 exam rather than the Math Level 1 exam. Though Math Level 2 covers more advanced material, namely trigonometry and precal, and is in general a more difficult test, we recommend you take ML2 simply because the scoring is much, much more lenient on this exam. Because the ML2 exam is more difficult, College Board made it so you can miss many, many more questions and still get an 800. In our experience, we’ve seen that for ML2, you can miss between 4-6 questions and still get an 800, while for Ml1, you can only miss 0-2 questions. This of course varies by exam, but across the board, ML1 is much more stringently graded than ML2.

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