Several of the colleges I was considering either required or recommended applicants take a number of SAT Subject Tests. For all the pressure there was to do well on the “regular” SAT and ACT, I knew almost nothing about the Subject Tests. In case you’re in the same boat as I was, read on for some of my lessons from experience.
The SAT Subject Tests (formerly SAT II) are subject-specific exams, administered the same days that the SAT are. Here’s a list of the SAT Subject Tests that are offered. Few schools actually require the SAT Subject Tests unless you are homeschooled, but they can also be a helpful way to show your strengths.
I took the SAT Subject Tests, and I am more than willing to admit that my scores were relatively awful. Here are six important lessons I wish I’d known to succeed on the test:
- How the SAT Subject Tests are used: The way scores are used varies from school to school and situation to situation. If they’re not required, you should still send scores to a school that “recommends” or “considers” them if it’s a very selective college and your scores are good. Fortunately, some colleges will only take scores into account if they help rather than hurt your case, but you can only be sure by checking the specific school’s policies. Also, SAT Subject Tests are used by some schools as a placement test for your freshman classes, particularly foreign language or math.
- Which subjects to take: Some schools require or recommend specific subjects (for instance, one math and literature), but generally, you should choose the subjects in which you feel strongest or have studied most recently. If you plan on continuing with a foreign language, it may be a good idea to take that test, in case the school does use it for placement.
- How high everyone else scores on the SAT Subject Tests: On the SAT Reasoning, the average scores for critical reading, mathematics, and writing are right around 500 each. On the Subject Tests, last year’s seniors’ mean scores were anywhere from 580 to 763, depending on the subject. Great. Like the Reasoning test, Subject test scores are scaled, but ultimately, people choose to take their Subject tests in subjects that interest them. They will do well, and you are up against tough competition.
- How the SAT Subject Tests differ from AP tests: Unlike most AP tests, the SAT Subject Tests are all multiple-choice with no essays. From experience, I would also say that the SAT Subject Tests are more broad, since they aren’t based around a specific curriculum. There are also some nuanced differences in the material covered. For instance, the SAT Biology gives you the option of answering questions with an ecology emphasis or a molecular biology emphasis. Usually, you can get away with taking an SAT Subject Test right after taking the corresponding AP test, as long as you take a look at the general SAT test format.
- When to take the SAT Subject Tests: Many people suggest taking tests closer to the end of the school year after taking the corresponding AP class, so that you remember the most material. Since sending test scores fall of senior year can be iffy, you might be safest taking them May or June of junior year. Note, though, that some Subject tests are only offered during certain months, so be sure to plan ahead.
- The misery of taking three tests in one day: Don’t do it. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it. Each test is an hour long. Not only will you be wiped out by the end of the second subject (if not sooner), but if you take your tests in separate months, it may help you become more comfortable with the format.
Hopefully, this will help you see much more success on the SAT Subject Tests than I had.
Readers, do you have any other advice to get ready for the SAT Subject Tests?