This spring all juniors should take the SAT and ACT at least once, but some students also need to take SAT Subject Tests. Juniors may need Subject Tests, but there may also be some freshman or sophomores who would benefit from taking SAT Subject Tests this spring while all the information from recent AP exams is fresh in their minds.
What Are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests are very much what the name suggests — tests over a specific subject. You’ll have a lot of choices: World History, Chemistry, Biology, Spanish, German, French. Because there are many options, often you’re given the opportunity to pick some of your best areas to take as Subject Tests.
You might find if you’re applying to an engineering program, they request you send Chemistry and Physics Subject Test results. Hopefully, if you’re applying in engineering you’re stronger in those areas than you might be if you were taking the U.S. History test.
Subject tests are very specific tests unlike the SAT and ACT which tend to focus on more general information – reading, math, and grammar. Subject tests allow you to delve in-depth into a particular topic.
Why Do College Want SAT Subject Tests?
Why would colleges want more tests? They find that this additional piece of information is helpful in finding students who are going to be most successful in college. It is also beneficial to have additional testing data when making highly selective admissions decisions.
A number of years ago The University of California system did some extensive studies on using Subject Tests (they were then called SAT IIs) to help predict who was going to have the best grades their freshman year in college… in other words, who was going to be the most successful.
What they found is when they used Subject Tests in addition to a student’s GPA, class rank / transcript information, plus regular SAT scores, the Subject Test information allowed them to be more accurate in finding students who were able to perform well their first year in college.
A lot of competitive universities are asking for Subject Tests as one more piece of information to help them make an admissions decision. It allows students to demonstrate ability in a subject of their choice, hopefully, a subject they are strong in. It gives the universities additional information to look at when making an admissions decision.
When Should Students Take SAT Subject Tests?
My hint with the Subject Tests: take them as soon as you finish that particular class in school even if you’re not getting ready to apply to college immediately. For example, if you’re taking World History your sophomore year, especially if you’re studying and preparing for something like an AP exam, go ahead and take the Subject Test that spring. I know it’s only the spring of your sophomore year, but you’re probably not going to know any more World History after waiting a year or two forgetting the details.
So take Subject Tests upon completion of a course. Your sophomore year you’re probably not ready to take math because you’ll be taking math again your junior year. Take SAT Subject Tests when the information is freshest in your mind, and that way you’ll have a good choice of scores to send when you’re applying to college.
For a list of subjects, partial list of schools requiring Subject Tests, and additional information, see my article from June 2012 “SAT Subject Tests: Did You Miss Your Best Exam Date?”