Everyone talks about the SAT, but do you know if you need SAT Subject Tests? Too often the SAT seems to get all the attention while the SAT Subject Tests are overlooked until it is too late to adequately prepare.
What are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests focus on specific academic areas. Parents, you may remember these tests under their former name, the Achievement Tests.
Students can chose from 20 different tests:
Subject SAT Subject Test
Math Level 1, Level 2
Science Biology (Ecological or Molecular), Chemistry, Physics
History US History, World History
Language (reading only) French, Spanish, German, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Italian
Language (with listening) French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
Each test is one hour long and consists of fewer than 100 multiple-choice questions. Like the SAT, the Subject Tests are scored on a scale of 200-800.
The Subject Tests are offered six times a year on the same days the SAT is given. Students can take up to three Subject Tests per day, but cannot take Subject Tests on the same day they take the SAT. Additionally, not all tests are given on all days. Language tests are the most and are often offered only in November, December, or June.
Who needs SAT Subject Tests?
Colleges can require or “strongly suggest” SAT Subject Tests for use in admission or course placement, so you will need to ascertain the admissions requirements for every school you are considering.
Typically, Ivy League and other highly selective schools require Subject Tests of all applicants, so if you are looking at schools like Rice, Duke, MIT, Boston College, Amherst, etc., you will need to take at least two Subject Tests.
Some colleges require homeschool applicants to submit Subject Test scores to demonstrate strength in academic areas. Some schools such as Notre Dame and Vanderbilt “strongly recommend” Subject Tests. Pomona College in California requires homeschool students submit scores from four Subject Tests.
Not all students will need Subject Tests. The problem is that is that most students won’t know if they need Subject Tests until fall of their senior year when application are due. Unfortunately, this if often too late to adequately prepare.
How can one prepare for SAT Subject Tests?
Students should take Subject Tests when the material is fresh in their minds. For subjects like Literature and Math, there is no best test date because these are subjects students study each year. Science and history courses contain material that is unlikely to be repeated each year, so students should take the Subject Test when they finish the course in school. You won’t know more US History, Biology, or Chemistry by waiting.
Students who prepare for an AP or IB tests in the spring, will have adequate preparation to take the corresponding Subject Test in May or June. Students should review sample test questions available on the College Board website or in the Subject Test review book.
What type of schools require SAT Subject Tests?
To give you an idea of the type of schools that require Subject Tests for admission, I’ve prepared a preliminary list with links to the requirements listed on each university’s website. This IS NOT a complete list. Please check with each school you may apply to view current requirements.
The following schools require two subjects tests of your choice unless noted. (Generally students may submit Math Level 1 OR Level 2, but can’t count both toward the total of two tests.)
Caltech (requires Math Level 2 + Bio, Chem, OR Physics)
MIT (requires Math Level 1 or 2 + Bio, Chem, OR Physics)
Tufts (Math + science recommended for science & engineering applicants)
UCLA (engineering applicants strongly encouraged to take Math Level 2 + a science)
Subject Tests give students another opportunity to show colleges strength in academics. As early as freshman or sophomore year, strong academic students may take subject tests in history or science. Juniors should set aside one test date to take two or three exams of their choice. If you plan ahead, you will not find yourself scrambling senior year, unable to meet early deadlines because you haven’t satisfied the SAT Subject Test requirements.