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SAT Subject Tests: What are they? Do I Need to Take Them?


The SAT Subject tests are college admission exams on a specific subject and are required for admission to some colleges.  SAT offers 20 Subject tests in 5 general subject areas: english, history, languages, math and science.  The tests are multiple choice and one hour in length.  Subject tests are scored on a scale ranging from 200-800. This is an opportunity for students to play to their strengths by selecting tests that cater to their interests and academic strength.  Students should take the subject tests after completing the corresponding coursework in their high school.  The College Board provides guidance for test content and the corresponding AP/IB courses that should be taken prior to sitting for the various subject tests.  However, while the corresponding AP/IB courses are good preparation for the subject tests, we recommend that students take a practice exam to determine if all of the expected areas of knowledge have been covered. Typically, the overlap between an AP/IB course and the corresponding subject test is not 100% so it is important to assess your content knowledge prior to sitting for the test.  


How do you decide if you need to take the SAT Subject tests?  Approximately 40 colleges require or strongly recommend the SAT Subject tests as a requirement for admission.  Among these are some of the most selective colleges in the country.  Colleges will indicate whether the SAT Subject tests are Required, Recommended or Considered.  I wish this was as straightforward as the words imply but there are some things you should know before you plan to take the tests.  

  • Required means that 2 subject tests in different ares are required for admission with the exception of Georgetown which requires subject tests in 3 areas.  Some schools allow the ACT to substitute for both the SAT and the SAT subject tests.  So you should check with the school before planning your tests. 

  • Recommended means that the school finds it useful for students to submit SAT Subject test scores.  This should be considered in the context of the schools to which you are applying.  The more selective a school or the more competitive the applicant pool the more likely that recommended actually means expected.

  • Considered indicates that that the school will accept SAT Subject matter test results to get a more complete picture of the applicant.  

Once you figure out if you need to take the SAT subject matter tests  your next question will likely be, what is a good score?  Much like the SAT a good score depends on the selectivity and competitiveness of the applicant pool at the schools you are applying to.  The score range for the SAT as published by the college should give you a sense of what the expectation would be for the SAT subject tests.  


As with all admissions testing we recommend you prepare, at a minimum, by taking practice tests to become familiar with the questions and the areas covered.  The SAT subject tests can be time intensive and there may be gaps in your knowledge so your time spent preparing could make a difference in the outcome. 


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