SAT Subject Tests: What Are They and Should You Take Them?


One question we’re often asked when we present at high schools, college fairs, or parent meetings is “What are SAT Subject Tests and should I

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take them?” Well, keep reading and by the end of this you should have as clear an answer as it’s possible to give.

What are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests are one hour exams on a variety of topics. They provide colleges a more detailed insight into your academic skills in a particular subject area than the SAT does. Many parents may remember hearing about or taking the Achievement Tests (if you graduated high school in the 80s or 90s) or the SAT IIs (in the first half of the 00s). Well, “SAT Subject Tests” is simply the latest name for those same exams.

There are 20 different SAT Subject Tests, covering topics such as Literature, Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, Latin, and Japanese), History (World and US), Math (Level 1 and 2), and Science (Chemistry, Biology, and Physics).

In theory, Subject Tests more directly test the material that would have been taught in school. Despite this seemingly closer alignment with a school’s curriculum, SAT Subject Tests are still standardized exams written by the ETS, and thus are still highly coachable and still subject to the same flaws and biases as the SAT. Preparing for the Subject Tests will often gain students a substantial improvement in their score. However, unlike the SAT, there is much more specific material tested on Subject Tests, and if you have not taken a class that teaches you that material, it will be fairly difficult to do well on the exam.

Should I Take SAT Subject Tests?
Only about 160 of the roughly 3,900 colleges and universities in the United States either require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. The rest of the schools don’t care and don’t use the scores to make admissions decisions. Thus, to determine if you should take SAT Subject Tests, you should check the requirements of schools you are thinking about applying to. Here is a list of schools that either require or recommend the tests. While the general rule is that most prestigious schools require the Subject Tests, this is not entirely true, so always verify with schools you’re interested in what their requirements are. For example, Yale

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University and Harvard are understandably on the list, but so is the lesser known Baptist College of Florida.

Hopefully this answers some of those big questions about the SAT Subject Tests for you. If not, please feel free to ask us more in the comments.

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