What are SAT Subject Tests and are they really necessary?

It seems like the exams never end, I know. SAT, ACT, AP exams, and now SAT subject tests. Subject tests, or the SAT II, are one hour long, multiple-choice exams designed to show mastery in a certain subject, similar to the AP exam. Currently, there are 20 subjects ranging from math to literature to Chinese. The subject test is administered at the same date and time as the SAT (the regular 3-hour long test). This means that you can’t take a subject test at the same time as the SAT, so plan accordingly. I recommend taking the subject test as soon as you’re finished with the relevant course (usually May or June), so that the material is fresh in your mind.

There is a $26 registration fee and then an additional $22 per exam ($26 if it’s a language exam with listening). So if you’re taking two non-language subject tests, it will cost $70. You can waive these fees if you’re eligible. You can take up to three subject tests in one sitting, which can save time and money since you only have to pay the registration fee once. However, some sources recommend taking no more than two at a time. You may burn out after the 2nd exam and it may not be wise to have to study for three different subjects concurrently. It depends on what works for you. Whatever you do, familiarize yourself with the logistics of the exam before you go in (which exam you’d like to take first, how many questions are in each one, what kind of questions they ask, etc.). Although you probably don’t have to study as much for the subject tests as you do for the SAT, you should be adequately prepared.

While some schools recommend you take the subject tests (e.g. Yale, Duke), others may require them (e.g. Harvard, MIT), and others will consider them (e.g. Wellesley, University of Southern California). A small number of schools will even let you submit subject tests in lieu of the SAT or ACT (e.g. NYU, Middlebury). Moreover, a school’s policy may vary based on what major you’re applying under and whether you’re homeschooled, so check each school’s policy before applyingHere is a comprehensive list of schools and their policies regarding the subject test: https://blog.prepscholar.com/complete-list-of-colleges-that-require-sat-subject-tests

As for which subjects you should take and how many, choose the ones you feel you can do well on. (Duh, I know). It also helps to have one related to your potential major to show your skill and interest. Math level 2 is the most popular exam with about 160,000 students taking it each year, so I’d recommend taking math (Level 1 or 2, not both) along with another subject. I took math level 2 and physics because they were required by some schools I was applying to. Some colleges may require certain subjects for certain programs, so again, check your potential schools’ criteria.

I think it’s rarely necessary to have to take more than 3 subject tests. No school requires that many, you probably have AP exams which can attest to your mastery over a subject, and you want enough time to prepare for each exam. It’s always better to do well on a few subject tests than to do poorly on several. You don’t want to score poorly on a subject test and then be forced to report it if the school requires it. A high grade in a class with a low score in the same subject test score might raise some eyebrows during the admissions process. So don’t take the exam until you’re ready.

Subject tests can be expensive and it’s annoying that it’s only offered concurrently with the SAT, but it’s well worth it. Even if your schools don’t require subject tests, it never hurts to have them under your belt. It adds depth to your application, showcases your strengths, and can help make up for a weakness in your application. A high subject test can also provide college credit in some schools, which is another perk. All in all, I highly recommend taking the SAT subject tests, but check your schedule and what your potential schools expect before deciding.

Good luck!

This blog post was written by Mariam Diallo


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