Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources

SAT Subject Tests, Explained


Although the SAT is well-known — and perhaps the most infamous of college admissions tests — many people may not have heard of its offshoot, the SAT Subject Tests. Previously known as the “Scholastic Achievement Tests” or SAT II, there are now a total of 20 multiple-choice tests that concentrate on individual subjects and are designed specifically to showcase an applicant’s grasp of the overall subject material learned in high school.

Why take them? Well, for one, some of them may be required by the college you’re applying to. But even if not, they may give you an edge on your application. These tests serve to demonstrate to admissions officers how much knowledge you have retained from high school and why you are well-suited for their degree program in that field. So, let’s take a closer look at what the SAT Subject Tests are made of:

The Breakdown

The five umbrella categories of SAT Subject Tests are English, History, Languages, Mathematics, and Science, each of which contains one or more subcategories. There are 20 multiple-choice questions on each test, with no short answer or essay component. Scores range from 200-800. Students may register to take up to three of these tests on any one date. Each test is one hour long. Students are able to select their strongest subjects.

The subcategories within each subject are as follows:

  • English – Literature
  • History – U.S. History, World History
  • Languages – Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese (some of these also have an option to test Listening comprehension, and may require certain equipment)
  • Mathematics – Level 1: college preparatory including one year each of algebra and geometry. Level 2: all subjects from Level 1, plus trigonometry and pre-calculus
  • Science – Biology: either Ecological or Microbiological, Chemistry, Physics

To Take, or Not to Take?

Whether or not you have to take SAT Subject Tests, or when you can take them, varies widely. As mentioned, some colleges specifically require these scores as part of their admissions application, while others don’t. Students must be aware of registration dates and deadlines. SAT Subject Tests are offered six times per school year, but not all categories or their subtopics are offered in each timeframe. In some cases, students may be able to choose not to send all of their scores to a college, so they should be sure to check the college’s score send policy. There are also fees involved based on the mix of tests the students select. In some cases, fees may be waived for students from low-income families.

The bottom line? Check out what each school you’re applying to requires, and then choose to take the SAT Subject Tests that you think will best showcase your talents while fulfilling your school’s requirements.

Keep in Mind

You may want to consider taking a few of the SAT Subject Tests even if your intended college does not require them. Admissions officers look for students who stand out, so taking these tests shows them that you have fully utilized your high school education, and you are ready to advance into their program. In other words, if a college you intend to apply to does not require scores, consider them as “extra credit” on your application.

Students who may particularly benefit from including SAT Subject Test scores in their college applications include: international students, multilingual or ESL students, and students who have been home-schooled. The reason for this is that the scores provide a baseline. Colleges can analyze how well you do compared to students who attend a traditional U.S. high school.

Some students mistakenly conflate SAT Subject Tests with Advanced Placement (AP) tests, but they’re entirely different. SAT Subject Tests are used to gauge a student’s understanding of the subject material from high school, whereas AP tests cover college-level subject material, and may count toward college credit in certain cases.

Here’s the thing to remember: There are so many SAT Subject Tests you can potentially take, but don’t think of them as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Keep an eye on what your intended colleges require, and from there, customize the experience so they enhance your college application to its fullest.

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Author: Kristen Moon

Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of Moon Prep provides one-on-one coaching services catered to university admissions. They guide students through the entire application process including: completing applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, student resumes, scholarships, and financial aid. Their specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.