Should I Take the SAT® Subject Tests?

November 10, 2017, 01:22 PM

Should I Take the SAT<sup>®</sup> Subject Tests?


Should I Take the SAT® Subject Tests?


While many students know about the importance of the SAT® test, many are still confused about the SAT® Subject Tests. If you are planning to apply to highly selective colleges, such as Stanford, the Ivy League and Georgetown (to name a few), you need to consider taking the SAT® Subject tests.


Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the SAT® Subject Tests.


What are the SAT® Subject Tests?


These one-hour, multiple-choice exams, also created by the College Board, cover material in specific content areas, such as biology, US History and foreign languages. The scoring for the SAT® Subject Tests is similar to the SAT® exam, ranging from 200 to 800.


Science: Biology, Chemistry, Physics

Math: Level 1 and Level 2 (preferred)

English: Literature

History: United States and World History

Languages (Reading Only): Italian, German, Hebrew, and Latin

Languages (with Reading and/or Listening): Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese


Remember: There is still a guessing penalty on the SAT® Subject tests (just like the SAT® test before March 2016). If you miss a question, a ¼ point will be deducted from the raw score. If you skip a question, no points are deducted. Ideally, students will answer the majority of question on the test, but if you run out of time, just leave the remaining answers blank (rather than random guessing).


When are the Subject Tests offered?


The Subject Test calendar is very similar to the SAT® test, with one major exception: no Subject Tests in March. That means that Subject Tests can be taken in August, October, November, December, May and June. Since the tests are shorter than the SAT®, students can sit for a maximum of three tests in one day.


Some subjects are not offered at every test date. The World History test (only August, December and June) and the foreign languages with listening component (November only) are exceptions.


Important: Remember that you cannot take the SAT® and the Subject Tests on the same day, so you need to plan ahead. For example, if you want to take your Subject Tests near you AP exams in May (which works for many students), that means you CANNOT take the May SAT® (so you would take the June instead). Students who are taking Subject Tests need to be careful not to overbook themselves.


Which Colleges Require Them?


If you plan to apply to a highly selective college, like Stanford, Cal-Tech or the Ivy League, then you may need to take two SAT® Subject tests. Every college decides its own policy requirement for the Subject tests, and these can change frequently. For example, Rice University just ended the Subject Test Requirement in September, yet students are encouraged to send scores if they feel it might help the application.


Other colleges have taken a similar approach, such as Amherst College, Columbia University, Dartmouth College and Carnegie Mellon University, who have dropped the requirement yet still encourage students to send scores if it might highlight their academic talents.


That means that there are only a handful of colleges that require that Subject Tests, and those that do require Subject Tests, frequently ask for two tests related to the intended major. Math and engineering schools, like Cal-Tech and MIT, place a big emphasis on the Subject Tests (especially Math 2), expecting potential admits to score very high (750-800). If you plan on applying to the top colleges for math and engineering, be prepared to study for the Subject Tests.


If Colleges “Recommend” the Subject Tests do I have to submit scores?


This is a “tricky” question. The correct answer is that you do not have to submit scores but you might want to give them a try if you know a subject area well. When a college "recommend” the tests, it means that if you score highly on these tests, it can “boost” your application.

Don’t forget! Some colleges do not require these exams for general admission, BUT do recommend that students take them for a specific major. For example, at the University of California, the requirement that all student take the Subject Tests was phased out in 2011, however, many students are not aware that some majors at these universities still highly recommend that student take them.

Can Low Scores Hurt My Chances for Admission?


Ideally, you would only submit Subject Test scores that highlight your academic abilities in a positive way. Remember that the Subject Tests participate in Score Choice™, which gives students some flexibility when sending scores to colleges, especially to colleges that do not require the tests.  IF you think you can score well, go for it!


The Bottom Line


If you plan to apply to highly selective colleges and universities, it would be wise to consider taking at least two Subject tests in the spring of junior year. In the bigger picture, though, scoring well on the SAT® is much more important, for every student. So prioritize SAT® prep first, then go from there.


Get 30% off digital SAT® PSAT/NMSQT® prep course enrollment with code COACH30 when ordering online at

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