Your Guide to SAT Subject Tests

May 5th, 2016 | SAT

What Are the SAT Subject Tests?

The SAT Subject Tests, also known as the SAT IIs, are specialized one-hour tests meant to measure a student’s preparedness for college coursework in particular fields. These tests are scored on the same 200-800 point scale as the other sections of the regular SAT, and can be seen as a kind of supplemental exam that can help you demonstrate your strengths. Think of it this way: what do you wish was part of the regular SAT? Do you wish there was a way to show off your knowledge of Latin, incredibly high reading comprehension, or knowledge of molecular biology? Now you can!

Students typically choose to take two SAT subject tests. The areas in which the test are offered are:

  • English Literature,
  • History (U.S. or World)
  • Language (Chinese, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Spanish or German)
  • Math (Level 1 or Level 2)
  • and Science (Biology-Ecological, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry or Physics)

Who Should Take the SAT Subject Tests

If you’re a junior intending to apply to competitive colleges next year, now’s the time to prepare for and take your SAT Subject Tests. SAT IIs are required by a few dozen elite U.S. universities (for example, the Ivy League schools), encouraged by many more, and accepted by virtually all. If you are planning on applying to highly competitive schools, plan on taking SAT Subject Tests. (For a complete list of schools who require these exams, and more information on which exams in particular, click here.) Bear in mind that universities and colleges that “recommend” or “strongly recommend” SAT Subject Tests will probably frown on an application that doesn’t include SAT II scores, so pay close attention to the desires of the admissions office!

What Subject Tests Should I Take?

The most important thing is to play to your strengths, and don’t take an SAT II exam you think you will do poorly in. Most schools expect two SAT Subject Test scores, though some recommend as many as three. If you’re interested in pursuing a degree in a STEM field, you will need to take the Math II exam, and another of your choice.

You’re aiming for a score of at least 650 on your subject tests; bear in mind that submitting a low score can actually hurt your application, so choose wisely, but remember that the test is leniently curved. Mostly importantly, don’t just guess at your strengths–take a few diagnostic tests before the exams to determine what areas you should test in, and what aspects of the exam you should work on.

What’s the Difference Between Math I and Math II?

Math is one of the most commonly taken and recommended SAT Subject Tests because it’s one of the most fundamental skills required for STEM majors. Math I tests basic high school math including algebra and geometry; Math II covers everything addressed in the Math I test, and also includes trigonometry, precalculus, and some calculus. If you’re planning on applying to a STEM major at a competitive college, you will need to take the Math II exam. If you’re unsure which test to take or what your education has really prepared you for, again, we emphasize the importance of taking a diagnostic test beforehand to determine your course of study.

When to Take SAT Subject Tests

High school juniors should take their SAT II exams in May and June before their senior year. This year, the tests are offered on May 7 and June 4, 2016, but be aware that the registration dates are earlier. To view all dates, click here. All foreign language tests with the exceptions of French and Spanish are only offered on the June 4 date.

High school seniors can also take SAT II exams in the fall, though we don’t recommend this. Seniors typically are occupied with college applications, and may have experienced knowledge atrophy over the summer. The fall SAT IIs are, however, a good occasion to re-take the exams you did poorly on the previous spring to hopefully improve your score.

SAT IIs or AP Exams?

The AP exams are administered by the College Board, the same organization that produces the SAT and the SAT Subject test, and as a result the AP exams and SAT IIs are similar tests that are similarly weighted by colleges.

AP exams are taken more often than SAT IIs, partly because a high score on an AP exam can often qualify a student for college credit or allow them to skip introductory courses. Furthermore, most students taking the AP exams have been enrolled in Advanced Placement programs in their high schools, which have the AP exam built into the curriculum. There are more academic subjects covered in the AP exams than in the SAT Subject Tests, though much crossover in content, and the AP exam is scored on a scale of 1-5, meaning that the results are less nuanced than the SAT Subject Test. It’s never a bad idea to take the SAT Subject test most closely related to your AP course as a way of demonstrating unique talent and interest in an area. For example, a score of 5 on your U.S. Government AP exam, coupled with a score of 700 on the U.S. History SAT Subject Test, would position a student extremely well for consideration at a top Political Science department.

With a little help from Sandweiss Test Prep and a lot of studying on your part, we’re confident you’ll be fully prepared for these intensive exams and will have the tools you need to ace them this spring. For more information about private tutoring for any of the SAT Subject Tests, please give Sandweiss Test Prep a call today at 206-417-5050 or contact us here.