Which SAT Subject Tests Should I Take?
Amidst all the buzz about the importance of SAT preparation, it’s easy to overlook the lesser-known SAT Subject Tests. But they’re important! Let’s look at some basic subject testing information:
SAT Subject Tests are offered in the categories of math, science, English, history, and language. Here is a list of all 20 test subjects.
Each test is 60 minutes, multiple choice, and scored on a 200-800 scale.
Subject tests are offered on the same dates as the SAT (except for March), but not all subject tests are offered on each date. See which tests are offered on which date here.
You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on the same test date, but cannot take the SAT on the same day as SAT Subject Tests.
How to Decide Which Tests To Take
Look at Individual Colleges’ Requirements
Firstly, some colleges don’t require SAT Subject Tests, some, such as the UCs, recommend them, and some don’t use subject tests at all. Here is a list of colleges that use subject tests.
Be aware that, even if the university doesn’t require subject tests, some programs or majors do require specific ones. For example, engineering programs usually require math and science subject tests.
Some colleges may also use certain subject tests to exempt you from a freshman course requirement or help place you into the right course. It’s best to check with individual colleges for their testing policies.
Do What You’re Good At
Colleges use SAT Subject Test scores as another way to learn more about you. Use them as an opportunity to showcase your strengths and make a statement about your interests.
Think about which classes you’ve taken to prepare you. If you’re finishing up an AP class, it can be a good idea to take an SAT subject test on the same topic while the material is still fresh in your mind.
A subject test can also demonstrate skills or knowledge you have about a subject you haven’t taken a class for, e.g., if you know a foreign language.
Considerations for Specific Tests
There are two math subject tests: Math Level 1 (covering algebra and geometry) and Math Level 2 (covering algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus). Take the math subject test that most closely corresponds to the math class level you have most recently completed or are near completing with a B or better. Applying to college with a STEM major will usually require Math Level 2.
Note: Contrary to what you might think, Math Level 1 might not be easier if you’ve more recently taken higher level math. The material from your recent classes will be fresher in your head; plus, questions on Math Level 2 tend to be more straightforward. In any case, you want to demonstrate to colleges your abilities so show them what you know!
There are also two biology SAT Subject Tests: Biology-E (Ecological) and Biology-M (Molecular). Consider taking Biology-E if you are better at topics such as biological communities, populations, and energy flow. Opt for Biology-M if you are better at topics such as biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, e.g., respiration and photosynthesis.
Note: You can’t take both biology tests on same test date.
It is recommended that you have at least two years of preparation for your language of choice. Of course, the more the better.
Take the subject test as close to the the end of most advanced class you’ve taken. As mentioned already, you’re likely to do better when the material is fresh in your mind.
Some languages—let’s use Spanish as an example--have two test options: Spanish Reading (reading with multiple choice questions) and Spanish with Listening (reading and listening with multiple choice questions). Note that the language tests with listening are only offered in November.
Taking the listening version of the test gives colleges a fuller picture of your abilities. According to College Board, though students tend to be more anxious about the listening portion, they also tend to do better on that part. So you can do it!
Lastly, it may be useful to look at the average test scores for each subject. Some tests, such as Math Level 2, Chinese, and Korean, have high averages so to be competitive you’d have to score quite high.
Because the subject tests are an opportunity to impress colleges with your talents, it’s best to take subjects that you will be able to perform the best on.
If you still are unsure which test to take, please visit your friendly neighborhood college counselor. Good luck!
Ready to improve your scores and build a great college application? Elite offers SAT Subject Test Prep for nearly every test. Contact your Elite branch today to schedule a free consultation!
Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and reading at Elite Prep Los Angeles since 2010.