In this post we’ll take a deep dive into the tactical considerations around Subject Test planning. A more succinct summary of the Subject Test landscape may be found here. Please feel free to call your Compass Director for an individualized assessment of your needs and to schedule practice tests for these important exams.

Click Each Question Below to Reveal an Expanded Answer:


Second semester of 11th grade is perhaps the most intense stretch of the college admission testing gauntlet that students must run. Many Compass students have just taken or are about to take their SAT or ACT, but for those applying to a highly selective college, there is no rest for the weary! It’s time to finalize a plan for Subject Tests targeting a test date on May 7th and/or June 4th. Subject Tests are required or expected by only about 40 of the most selective US colleges and universities, but these institutions tend to attract the most attention from ambitious students.


  • Choosing the subjects in which you have the most potential
  • Nailing the timing of when you take the tests
  • Ensuring that there are no gaps in your preparation

The best way to avoid tactical errors is to ensure each of these decisions is informed by the results of practice tests. We recommend taking an initial diagnostic test – one hour per subject – no later than 5 weeks before the official date you are considering. Our proctored test sessions and analysis of results are complimentary, but advance reservations are required and sessions close to popular test dates will fill up.

The good news is that an initial diagnostic test and review of the results may be all you need to do to be ready. Many students find that their academic coursework – particularly in AP and honors classes – is often sufficient as preparation for Subject Tests. And when additional tutoring for Subject Tests is needed, that prep tends to be both efficient and multi-purpose. Most students select Subject Tests that correspond with current academic classes, so tutoring for Subject Tests tends to serve double-duty as prep for an AP or final exam.


Subject Tests and Advanced Placement exams are often confused. Think of them as cousins, but not siblings. They serve different roles. Subject Tests are designed to allow students to demonstrate achievement in a particular academic area, but the tests are not tied to specific curricula and are expressly intended to be used in admission decisions. AP exams are more directly tied to a particular set of academic specifications. While AP’s certainly serve a role in admission decisions as evidence of mastery of the highest level offering of a particular subject, their original and official purpose is reflected in their moniker: “Advanced Placement.” Many colleges still link course placement and course credit to performance on AP exams. So while your AP classes will help inform your Subject Test planning, AP’s do not replace Subject Tests in the admission process (with very rare exceptions, e.g. NYU).


The answer depends entirely on the contours of the field on which a student intends to compete. While Subject Test scores are relevant at only about 3% of the four-year institutions in the U.S., the scores can be significant factors in the admission decisions at approximately 40 colleges that are extremely popular. And an additional 60 colleges – also quite well known – will consider Subject Tests if submitted.

To evaluate the tests’ importance in your individual situation, start by reviewing the list of these 100 institutions. If you’re an 11th grader then you likely have a college list in mind to cross-reference. Tenth graders usually aren’t as far along in their planning but may at least have an idea of whether the likes of Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Williams, etc. will be under consideration. You should also keep in mind that specific academic majors (e.g. engineering or nursing) within a college may require Subject Tests that are not required by all applicants to the college.

As a general rule, if you may decide to apply to one of the selective colleges in the up to date list on our website or to a particularly competitive academic major within a college, then you should keep your options open by taking Subject Tests.


The minimum expectation is two tests (with the sole exception of Georgetown which still states a preference for three tests). Whether you should push yourself to exceed the minimum can be determined by a common sense assessment of the competitiveness of the applicant pool at your target colleges. Context is key.

For example: George Washington University and Stanford University both recommend Subject Tests. However, in 2014, GW admitted approximately 45% of the students who applied for admission, while Stanford admitted only 5%.

We would advise you to accept GW’s position at face value. You could reasonably conclude that while GW would like to see Subject Tests, it’s much more of a soft preference than an implied expectation.

On the other hand, and keeping in mind that a 5% admission rate made Stanford the most selective undergraduate institution in the country in 2014, it would be wise to exceed Stanford’s “recommendation” by striving to produce outstanding Subject Test scores to submit if you possibly can.

A rule of thumb: The more competitive the applicant pool, the more you should interpret “recommended” as “expected.” And if you could excel on more than the minimum of two Subject Tests without too much extra effort, then you should probably do so. It’s not uncommon for Compass’ most ambitious students to take three to five Subject Tests, if such an approach is supported by their academic coursework and strengths.


Optimal selection of Subject Tests is critical, and the best choices are usually those that align with your most advanced classes and your academic strengths. See the following list of subjects and months when each subject is offered, noting that not all subjects are offered on all test dates.
Subject Test Description
Here is a table detailing the number of questions and a brief description of each test:
Subject Test Dates
Thoughts to keep in mind as you are evaluating these options relative to your classes at school and your academic strengths:

The more advanced and challenging the academic class, the more likely that the material will overlap significantly with a related Subject Test. If you are in an AP or honors/advanced class that corresponds with a Subject Test, then it is almost certainly advisable to at least take a practice test to evaluate whether you should take that Subject Test officially.

The alignment of content is not always straightforward though, and the practice test results must be interpreted with caution. Let’s take AP US History for example:

A student expecting to score a 4 or 5 on AP-USH will find much content that is familiar on the ST-USH. However, we are not suggesting that even the top students in AP-USH should just walk into the ST-USH cold. The content overlap is not 100%. While most AP classes start with the arrival of the Europeans in the “New World,” the Subject Test takes the more enlightened view that Native American history is fair game too.

Then there is the rather fast pacing of Subject Tests. The ST-USH has 90-95 multiple-choice questions in just 60 minutes. Students must move quickly and act decisively. And decisiveness in the face of uncertainty is essential, as even the students most steeped in US History may find a surprising number of questions with unfamiliar content. The test is designed to be approachable by students who have been taught US History from a variety of pedagogical emphases. This broad but shallow characterization of the content means that very few high school history classes will have covered every stitch of material on the test, and therefore most students will need to make educated guesses or skip at least some questions. This also means that indecisive guessers and reluctant skippers may struggle to finish the exam.

Finally, the conversion scale reflects these realities of the test’s construction. A typical ST-USH scale allows students to leave as many as ten questions blank and still receive the top score of 800. Even students leaving half the questions blank could still score around 600.


With just a few exceptions, you should take a particular Subject Test at the end of the school year when you have taken a corresponding class of appropriate rigor. May or June of 11th grade is thus the most popular window when the majority of Subject Tests are taken. 10th and even 9th grade students may be advised to take a Subject Test, if they are excelling in an AP or advanced class in a subject that they will not continue in before 12th grade.

The choice between the May and June test dates requires careful consideration. June tends to be more popular, simply because it is later in the school year for most students and occurs very close to their final exams. It’s a lot to worry about simultaneously, but you get more bang (points) for your studying buck (time). Students in a corresponding AP class may find that their AP exam date is closer to the May date for Subject Tests than the June date. Would you rather study for the Subject Test first, knock that out, and then move on to the AP….or vice versa? We recommend you consult with your teacher at school. Many (but not all, unfortunately) teachers are well-versed in the Subject Test related to their specialty. They may be able to give subject-specific advice. Some may even tell you to take the AP first and wait until June for the Subject Test, because they plan to spend class time on the Subject Test material in the 1-3 week period between the AP date and the June date for Subject Tests.

Keep in mind that you can’t freely choose between May and June for Subject Tests if you have already planned to take the SAT on one of these test dates. You cannot take the SAT and the Subject Tests on the same date (we wouldn’t wish that on anybody even if it were possible). This is one of the reasons why we recommend a December, January, or March test date for a first sitting of the SAT. The ACT helpfully avoids College Board test dates, so the April and June ACT test dates do not pose a direct conflict. The June ACT date is always the second weekend in June, one week after the SAT / Subject Tests date. You could choose to utilize both of these June dates, in which case your summer break would be especially well earned.

The fall test dates are generally unpopular for Subject Tests. Thoughtful exceptions include an October tester who took an intensive summer school course or a November tester who wants to take the version of a Language test with a listening component (often preferred by native speakers). An unfortunate exception would be a student who somehow missed or failed to heed the advice to take Subject Tests at the end of the school year when students are most typically peaking in a particular subject.


Generally, yes. (See the next question for caveats related to colleges that disallow Score Choice.) The most typical retesting scenario would be to take a first stab on the May test date and then get right back on the horse for the June test date. Equestrian skills and test-taking skills tend to improve with experience, like most anything else. This May-then-June approach is a bit unusual though, as most students feel it will be sufficient to target just one test date and use practice tests (and possibly a modicum of tutoring) to ensure they are well prepared. Also, there is not time to test in May, wait to receive your score 2-3 weeks later, and then register for the June test date. The June registration deadline is earlier than the May score reporting date, so students wishing to keep the retest possibility open would need to pre-register for June well in advance. Those who sign up after the late registration deadline receive “Waitlist Status,” which does not guarantee a spot.

Another rationale for retesting would result from taking classes that build upon one another. For example, consider a 10th grader taking Honors Pre-Calculus. The content of the Math Level 2 aligns quite well with most Honors Pre-Calculus classes, so from that perspective the end of the 10th grade may be the optimal window. A 10th grader in this situation may be able to bank a top score on Math Level 2 and thus have less to worry about in 11th grade. Or, that 10th grader may find that there is still significant room for improvement after the first try, so he/she could decide to take another stab at it a year later. That student would typically go on to AP Calculus AB in 11th grade. The content of Calc AB is generally beyond the emphases of the Math Level 2, but math skills tend to be acquired cumulatively and retained. These further developed math skills specifically combined with another 12 months of academic maturity generally may be the ticket to an even higher Math 2 score.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, then you know what we rely on to help make these timing and retesting decisions. Practice tests! Never take an official test cold, and avoid speculation as much as possible in selecting tests and test dates.


Maybe. Technically the College Board gives you “Score Choice” capability, allowing you the ability to selectively report your scores as you see fit. You could, for example, take the Math 2, Literature, and Chemistry exams on the same test date and then later choose to report only certain scores from this date to any particular college. However, some colleges disallow Score Choice and require you to stipulate in your admission application that you have not exercised Score Choice. The “who” and “why” of this issue would require its own blog post, but try not to worry about it. If there is reason to believe that a retest would increase your score, then retest. If you retest and a particular college expects you to report both scores, then report both scores. The likelihood is extremely remote that any college would scrutinize the trend in your scores and discount a gain in any meaningful way.


If you find the variety of Score Choice postures confusing, here’s another head-scratcher: Many colleges require Subject Tests if paired with the SAT, but will officially accept the ACT alone as meeting the basic testing requirement. Let’s take two universities you may have heard of as examples: Harvard requires at least two Subject Tests IN ADDITION to EITHER the SAT or ACT, while Yale will fully consider your application for admission with ONLY an ACT score (Yale requires Subject Tests only if you chose to take the SAT instead of the ACT). Princeton and MIT are in Harvard’s camp on this issue, while Penn and Columbia see it Yale’s way. For a complete list, see the institutions listed in this table.

Confused yet? We don’t blame you. The pundits and gurus don’t all agree on why this variation in practices exists.

On the one hand, we are reluctant to suggest that any college’s policy should be taken at less than face value. If Yale’s policy says that an ACT alone is accepted equally in lieu of the SAT and several Subject Tests, who are we to suggest otherwise?

On the other hand, it’s possible that the option to submit an ACT score alone may make that college appear more welcoming to some prospective applicants, especially those in geographic locations or demographic circumstances in which Subject Tests are less readily available. For the typical Compass student in a competitive high school in California and carrying a schedule full of AP and Honors classes, we feel it is advisable to demonstrate academic strengths as convincingly as possible. In many cases this is best achieved by submitting Subject Tests regardless of whether they are technically required.


You can take as many as three Subject Tests on a test date, but you don’t have to take that many – you could take just one or two. You can choose to spread your Subject Tests across multiple test dates if your schedule allows. Each Subject Test is one hour long. Only having to cope with one or two Subject Tests on a certain date makes for a less taxing day, and this may reflect positively in your scores. It’s possible, for example, to take 1-2 Subject Tests in June of 10th grade, 1-2 more in May of 11th grade, and 1-2 more in June of 11th grade, with some of those tests serving as second attempts in the same subject. Each student has unique circumstances and strengths, so there is no static template.


Up to the very last minute. While the registration form for Subject Tests asks you to indicate which subjects you intend to take (we’re not sure why), this is non-binding. On the day of the test, you are given a thick booklet with all subjects, and you choose then and there which subjects you will take. Don’t worry: If you decide to take more subjects than you paid for when you registered, the College Board will remember to bill you for the difference.


Yes, you choose the order. Most students choose to start with the subject on which they feel they need the most energy and/or are most hopeful will be their best subject, but this is entirely up to you.


We’re sorry to keep saying “It depends,” but, well….it really does depend on the context. While few institutions readily report Subject Test data for admitted or enrolled students, we can make some reasonable assumptions. SAT score data in the middle-50th percentiles (25th % to 75th %) are available, and it stands to reason that Subject Test scores for enrolled students are similar to SAT scores. Students can expect that Subject Test scores in the low-mid 700’s put them in the same ballpark as other applicants to the highly selective colleges which require Subject Tests.

When evaluating your Subject Test scores, focus on the scaled score from 200-800 and not the reported percentile. Percentile scores for Subject Tests are misleading, because they often indicate a skewed testing population. For example, only 27,000 students take the Physics test each year, so it is logical to assume that most are quite good at Physics. Your scaled score, not your percentile, is the most important number on your Subject Test report and allows you to compare your performance across different subjects.

If you’ve read this far, we salute you! Making decisions based on accurate information is half the battle, so your commitment to being well-informed will serve you well. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information, personalized guidance, and practice tests.

Adam Ingersoll

About Adam Ingersoll

Adam began his career in test prep in 1993 while at the University of Southern California, where he was a student-athlete on the basketball team, worked in the admission office, and graduated magna cum laude. Over the last two decades he has guided thousands of families to successful experiences with standardized tests and has mentored hundreds of the industry's most sought-after tutors. Adam is known nationally as a leading expert on college admission testing and is a frequent presenter at higher ed conferences, faculty development workshops, and school seminars.


  • sue says:

    Question for you…
    Scenario: Student has not chosen score choice, takes 3 SAT Subject tests on one date, bombs 1 Subject test, but scores well on the other 2 Subject tests…Can student report/send only the 2 high-scoring SAT Subject tests to colleges? or must student report all 3 SAT Subject test scores (or none)?

    • Matt Steiner says:

      Hi Sue!

      Unless the school does not exercise score choice – and thus, the student must submit his entire portfolio of test scores – he may choose which Subject Test scores to submit out of the three exams he took on that single test day (one exam, two exams, all three, or none).

  • Rob says:


    In reference to Harvard/Princeton requiring two subject tests in addition to SAT or ACT score, if a student has taken all three (SAT, ACT, and two subject tests), can the student submit the ACT score and two subject test and not send the SAT score?

    Thank you

    • Matt Steiner says:

      Hi Rob, my apologies for the delayed reply. Both Harvard and Princeton have ‘Score Choice’ policies that allow students to submit individual test scores (per sitting). In your case, your student can choose to submit test scores from a single exam date (SAT or ACT) regardless of the fact that he/she may have taken both tests. Princeton and Harvard both want students to ‘put their best foot forward’ where testing is concerned.

  • JR says:


    Do you know what Stanford and Yale require for subject tests? I am planning on taking Biology and US History and have already taken Chemistry. I’m worried my US History score might end up being awful, would I have to send it in?


    • Matt Steiner says:

      Hey JR,

      I believe that Stanford and Yale either require or ‘strongly recommend’ Subject Tests – you should probably read the fine print on their admission websites. In either case, you’re competing against a pool of tremendously strong applicants, so sending exceptional ST scores is imperative. Give our offices a call and we can give you more specific advice.


  • puneet saraswat says:


    I wanted to ask that are there any universities that don’t require SAT 2 when you submit you ACT scores when applying for engineering.


    • Matt Steiner says:

      Hi Puneet, I recommend that you speak with a college counselor or do some independent research on the topic. We don’t have information regarding engineering programs readily available to us. Best of luck!

  • Hannah says:

    So I am a fluent Korean speaker, and I’m positive I didn’t miss a single question on the SAT Korean Subject Test. (I checked it 4 times!)
    It was all super easy basic grammar, for example, “The grandfather went to the airport to pick up his grandson.” “Where did the grandfather go?” VERY easy. But I ended up getting a 790/800. How do I see which questions I missed??

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I am sorry for your frustration. There is no equivalent to the SAT Question and Answer Service for Subject Tests. College Board does not release Subject Test questions. You could request — and pay for — hand-scoring, but that would only reveal a mistake in how your answers were scanned. I don’t know of any college that will think less of a 790 score than an 800 score. It’s a great score.

  • Simon C says:

    Hi! I took the SAT Subject Test today in Maths Level 2, Physics, and Spanish. This is the last sitting I can actually take these exams for the current admissions cycle (Fall 2016) so I have listed my 8 colleges as score recipients. Now, I did quite well in both Physics and Spanish, but Maths went terribly (I left more than 15 blank) because I had a really bad headache and was freaking out! Can I use Score Choice to select which score to send even before I receive the scores? I can imagine getting 600 on Maths Level 2 which would completely jeopardise my entire application, so I am extremely worried!! Would be glad if you could help.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Simon, you can change score recipients up to 9 days after your test.
      I would recommend following up ASAP. Designating score recipients in advance can get your scores to colleges more quickly, but it comes with the trade-off of not seeing your scores first. I’d advise you to check with the colleges before you exercise Score Choice. In some cases January scores late in the application process are only acceptable if they are received immediately after scoring.

  • Jake J says:

    If a student has taken all three (SAT, ACT, and two subject tests), can the student submit only the ACT score and two subject test and not send the SAT score to UC schools?
    For example: If I took the SAT 1 and got a 2010, Sat Bio: 710, SAT Chem: 750, and ACT: 35 is it fine if I just send in my ACT and Sat Chem scores to UCs?
    Thanks a lot!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The UC policy is that all scores must be sent. “In the College Board’s Score Choice module, ensure that all scores are sent to UC. We require all scores and will use the highest scores from a single administration.” The policy does not distinguish between SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject Tests.

  • Niyo says:

    Hi, I took the SAT Subject test in Math level 2 and physics on January 23, 2016, and had ordered score reports to the schools I applied to. However, I have not received my scores yet I expected to receive them in three weeks after the test date. When I check my account and try to view the scores, I always find that the results are not yet available and also from the application checklists of the schools to which I ordered the reports I can see that they aren’t yet received. I wonder why my scores have taken so long. Would you help me please to know my scores?
    My registration number is xxxxxxxxxx.

  • Sydney says:

    I took the SAT subject test in Chinese and got 790 on it, but I did not take any language course in high school. My counselor said this test can worth some language credit so I’m just wondering if this is true or not, if it is true, how much does it worth?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Generally Subject Tests will not get you course credit in the same way that an AP would. There may be exceptions. It is definitely true that many colleges allow students with high Subject Test scores to place out of foreign language requirements or to skip introductory courses.

  • matthew says:


    I’m taking the sat biology subject test in may, and I was just wondering whether the exam has been changed or not since 2009. I have a couple of practice books that are labeled 2010-2011, and I’m not sure if the practice tests within them will be representative of the actual exam that I will have to take in about a month. Does anyone know the answer to this?

    Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Subject Tests evolve very slowly, and we have not noticed any significant changes since 2009 in Biology. It’s even more unlikely that the preparation books you are using have been overhauled (other than changing the titles). Do make sure to get The Official Guide to ALL Subject Tests from the College Board to get the most accurate practice test. Good luck.

  • Ryan says:

    I was wondering if I have already registered for the math level 2 test and realize during my prep that I am not scoring high enough is it ok to cancel the subject test and take at a later date or even take a different subject test later on?
    Thanks in advance for the help

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You can change the subjects you choose to take right in the testing room. You can also cancel your registration or move it to a later date, but you will need to check with College Board to see if you will be able to get a refund or avoid added fees. There is more information here.

  • Rebecca says:

    I was wondering if you can choose which colleges you want to send your SAT subject test scores to? For instance, if I am planning on applying to Vanderbilt and Princeton, I know I must submit my subject test scores to Princeton, but if I do that then do I automatically have to send them to Vanderbilt as well? (Vanderbilt is subject test optional)

  • Geoff says:

    My daughter’s high school advised that students who are finishing up Algebra 2/Trigonometry should take the Math 2 SAT subject test at the end of the year. However, your recommendation is to have a year of Pre-Calc prior to taking SAT Math 2. Would it be better for a student at my daughter’s level to take the Math 1 subject test instead? She is a sophomore but is concerned that she will be overloaded with ACT/SAT, AP Tests, and other subject tests in the spring of her junior year and thought it wise to get one test out of the way.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Schools have differing math pathways and differing levels of rigor. In a challenging math curriculum, students completing Alg/Trig will have covered the material on Math 2. As a generalization, though, the same cohort of juniors will outperform their sophomore marks.

      Your daughter’s concerns are valid — junior spring is a bear. Also, most colleges recognize Score Choice for Subject Tests. If she is not happy with her Math 2 score, she can repeat it.

      In general, I have a bias toward the Math 2. It provides more options (some colleges want Math 2 rather than Math 1), and most students can do as well on Math 2 as on Math 1. A good way for your daughter to see if she is an exception is to get and take the released Subject Tests from College Board (do NOT depend on any non-CB tests). She can then decide if she is happy with where she might perform and if she is ready for Math 2.

  • Yves says:

    My kid took Math Level II and Physics at the end of freshman year and got 800s on both, so we thought he was done with those. He is now a junior. You say that a number of your students take more than 2 subject tests. He will be applying to a number of colleges that require his full testing history. I think there is a pretty good chance that he could score well (though probably not 800) on Literature, Biology M, and Chemistry, but he wouldn’t be able to take them until October. He could take the official sample tests in the big book over summer. Any advice on how to weigh the pros and cons of taking more subject tests with the risk of getting scores that are not as high as the existing ones? Do colleges really look at more than the 2 highest subject tests? He doesn’t want to look like someone who takes tests for fun and “doesn’t have anything better to do with a Saturday” (quote from MIT Admissions website).

    • Adam Ingersoll says:

      A number of our students do take more than 2 subject tests, but only with good reason. Those reasons might include a) little to no additional effort required to score equally as high as their first two or b) they need to shore up other weaknesses evident in their application. I would suggest taking practice tests for Lit, Bio, and Chem, so as to see whether high 700’s or 800 are easily within reach. If not, and especially if, as I suspect, he has a strong portfolio of AP’s or IB’s, then let it go and call it good with two. For Bio and Chem, not being able to take them until after a full summer off from academic science material is sub-optimal, unless he’s really a “science guy” and has some way of staying fresh over the summer. For Lit, this is less of an issue as Lit requires less memorization of specific content. Best of luck to your son; please let us know if we can address further questions.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yves, I do like the quote from the MIT site, although I think that’s more applicable to students repeatedly testing in the hope of small gains. About 47% of Subject Test takers test in 3 or more subjects, so he will not receive negative marks for additional scores. One reason students take more than 2 Subject Tests is because they are unsure of how they will perform. It’s also a good idea to take Subject Tests when a subject is fresh. Your son does not need to worry about those issues! The only school that continues to strongly recommend 3 Subject Tests is Georgetown. The most competitive colleges will look at additional Subject Tests, but they are not expected. If your son can score that well in other subjects, it could help him demonstrate a wide range of knowledge. That would be the pro. The con would be additional testing interfering with the rest of his college planning or receiving scores that undercut his testing profile. MIT, just as an example, allows Score Choice, so he can decide which scores they receive.

  • Xyz says:

    what is considered good score for New Sat?

  • El says:

    I am taking the bio sat 2 tomorrow and I’ve been wondering what I should do if it doesn’t go well.. If I get a poor score, will all of the colleges I apply to see it no matter what? Or do I have a choice on whether or not I want to send in my score?
    And if I take two more sat 2 exams at a later date, will I be able to choose which if the two I send in?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The College Board’s Score Choice policy allows you to decide which Subject Test scores you send to colleges. If you took advantage of the free reports that come with registration, those will go out automatically without your ability to review them. You are able to cancel any of these score reports within 9 days of the test.

      If you take additional Subject Tests, you will be able to choose which ones you send. One caveat is that not all colleges recognize Score Choice. Schools such as Yale ask you to submit all of your SAT and Subject Test scores. Ultimately, College Board gives you the power to decide which scores are included.

  • Rachel says:

    Hi, thank you for the informative post. I just took the Math 2 and World History subject tests yesterday, and I’m considering cancelling my scores. I took the Math 2 exam last year at the end of my freshman year and received the score of 750, so I wanted to shoot for a 800 this time. However, I had a terrible stomach ache during my Math 2 exam, and I’m afraid I might have received a bad score. On the other hand, I think that I might have done pretty well on the World History subject test. Would you still recommend that I cancel my scores? Thank you so much in advance!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would recommend taking advantage of Score Choice (when the time comes) rather than canceling your scores. Even a “bad” score can give you feedback on how you performed, and it would be a shame not to see your World History score.

  • Grace Kim says:

    Hello, thank you for providing students with this information!
    I had a question about the Subject SAT test, I took the Biology subject test yesterday and felt really confident about it and continued to take the U.S history test, but I only signed up for one test. Does the College Board charge you once the reports are sent or do I need to call the College Board and confirm I took another test?

    Thank you,
    Grace Kim

    • Art Sawyer says:

      No worries — you will be billed for the second test. Here is the language from College Board:
      “You can also add a test on test day, if it’s being given on that day — but you can’t add a Language with Listening Test. You’ll be billed for the tests you add.”

      Best of luck with your results.

  • Alazar says:

    I am an international student from Ethiopia and I took the Math level 2 subject test and received an 800. I am planning on taking World History and Physics subject tests on October. I was wondering, since I am an international student and schools have little idea about the curriculum at my high school, will taking more than the required number of subject tests help my chances and assure schools like Harvard that I have been taking rigorous courses through out high school or will Math Level 2 and World History suffice.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Two groups of students benefit most from being able to post strong scores in more than the minimum number of subjects — home-schooled students and international students. As you suspect, testing becomes more important when there is uncertainty about a student’s academic background. When applying to colleges that recognize Score Choice, the decision to add a subject is made even easier. You can always choose not to submit Physics.

  • Moses Makangila says:

    Hello . I’m Moses From zambia can I submit the SAT one with only one subject test ?I’m due totake math 2 nd physics but I may not take physics due to circumstance beyond my control .can I be accepted with a combination of sat1 nd math 2 only ?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Moses, things can get a little complicated. Most U.S. colleges do not require Subject Tests, but you should check to see if there are additional requirements for international students. Most schools that require Subject Tests expect 2 tests. However, they sometimes waive this requirement if there are extenuating circumstances. Harvard, for example, notes that “you may apply without them if the cost of taking the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them.”

  • Steven says:

    My son just got his SAT subject scores for test in May. He has 800 on Math II and 770 on Chemistry. He is very upset about 770 on Chemistry and feels that he needs close to 800 to be competitive. Is it true? We live in California and some of the UC campus are his top choices. Any insight if his scores are decent enough for good UC campus and USC, CMU type of schools?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your son is being overly harsh on himself and may be getting bad advice online. An admission officer allowing a 770 vs. an 800 on a Subject Test to swing a decision is an admission officer who will soon be looking for a new job. Among the many reason for this is that the Subject Test itself can only be so accurate (standard error of measurement is 20-25 points) and so useful (validity). Perfect scores put students minds at ease because they don’t have to worry about the impact of having done better. They are not a silver bullet in admissions.

      The UC’s no longer require Subject Tests, but they will serve as a plus factor. They also no longer report Subject Test scores. When they did, the distribution of of scores was similar to those of SAT scores. His Subject Test numbers are very strong.

  • Steven says:

    Two Questions:

    I have taken the ACT, SAT subject tests, and old SAT exams. I would like to submit only my ACT and Subject Test results. Would I have to also report my old SAT score to colleges that do not follow score choice as well?

    Also, for someone majoring in liberal arts (Classics) is it important to have subject tests in liberal arts as well?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The first question has some interesting twists. For schools such as Yale and Stanford that are both “all scores” and require Subject Tests, you are expected to submit all of your test results. By default College Board sends all SAT and Subject Test scores unless you opt for Score Choice. For schools that do not require Subject Tests, it’s not as clearcut. The policies are often worded as “We do not recognize Score Choice.” If taken literally, you must send a full College Board report of SAT and Subject Tests. There are some policies that ask you to send all SAT scores — sometimes only if you want to be considered based on an SAT score — and/or all ACT scores. At those schools, I would say that the spirit of the policy is not violated by withholding Subject Tests. My advice would be to consult those colleges directly (anonymously if you have any concerns). The final twist is that Score Choice is based on the honor system in that colleges are not told whether or not you have used Score Choice. I recommend that students adhere to honor systems, but many folks disagree on the Score Choice point. You would have to make your own decision.

      Science/engineering programs will often ask for math/science, but I know of no school that has ever asked prospective liberal arts majors for humanities Subject Tests. I suspect that if you are considering Classics that other parts of your academic record would already reflect your non-STEM abilities.

  • Erik says:

    I got a 33 (34 superscored) on my ACT, and a 1470 on my SAT (though I intend to improve both scores). When I took the subject tests, I realised that the only two tests for which I had learnt the contents were math 1 and math 2, so I did those (I am an international student). I’m applying to Princeton, Harvard, and other schools as a math major.
    – Do ivies look down upon/not like a student submitting (only) math 1 and math 2?
    – When applying to Harvard and Princeton, if I send in ACT and SAT scores, do I have to send subject tests?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Submitting Math 1 and Math 2 as your two Subject Tests is definitely frowned upon. You should try to find another subject, if possible. Technically, Princeton only recommends Subject Tests, so you could still apply with just your math scores (I wouldn’t advise it unless you have no other choice). Harvard’s policy is even more tortured, and you can read it on our Subject Tests Requirements page. We classify Subject Tests as “required” at Harvard because its exceptions are so narrowly defined. Again, your application would not be thrown out, but it is harder to standout without a full testing profile.

  • Hailey Kim says:

    Hi, I have a question regarding sending the subject test scores to colleges.
    So if you took a certain subject test twice, and you apply to colleges that let you send the scores that you want instead of sending all, does that still mean that the colleges “can” access to your other scores even if you don’t send them? or if they give you a choice to send any scores you like, are the not allowed to view other scores of my test?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You are in full control of your scores as long as you choose Score Choice. You can decide which scores to send (even with repeated Subject Tests), and colleges have no access to the scores that you choose not to send.

  • Luisa says:


    I am debating whether or not to submit a Spanish subject test (on which I scored an 800), because, though Spanish is not my first language and not often spoken at home, I am hispanic. I took many formal Spanish courses in elementary/middle school, but placed out out of the available Spanish courses in high school after Freshman year. I am thinking of applying to elite institutions, and to take another subject would require very intensive studying when I could be prepping my essays or other things in that vein. Will it hurt me to submit my Spanish score?

    Thank you

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I think your question might better be stated as, “Am I better off submitting Spanish or grinding out a replacement score?” You don’t mention other ST scores. Most colleges that want Subject Tests will want two. You are correct that colleges don’t think much of a student taking a Subject Test in their first language. It doesn’t tell them much about a student’s academic background. You are in a situation that I have not seen frequently enough to give strong guidance. If it really boils down to a choice between submitting Spanish and neglecting the rest of the application process, then it seems like you should submit Spanish. I often advise students to think like an admission officer. How would you evaluate your own application? Is it obvious from other parts of the application that Spanish is not your first language? Are your reading and writing scores on the SAT or ACT strong? Do you have another strong Subject Tests? Do you have AP scores that show a breadth of learning? You can’t go back in time and take other courses, so you need to think about how you might strengthen things in the eyes of an admission officer. If you have not already done so, take some practice Subject Tests in other areas. You may find out that they do not require as much intensive studying as you fear.

  • Sandy says:

    My son will be starting his senior year with a 4.7 GPA, killer resume of science research, community service, and sports. His SAT score (old SAT) was 2230.
    His subject tests were 790 Biology E, 770 US History, and 620 on Spanish ( he said the vocabulary were words he’d never seen/learned )… He’s applying to a few REACH schools, one of which is Pomona College. They require two subject tests, and it appears that they require that you certify you’re sending all the scores (so no super scoring, I believe). My question is: Should my son take another subject test this fall, like Math 2 or literature (both I believe he’d do well on)? or just hope that university will not put much weight on the Spanish score. (He’s not planning on majoring in spanish.)
    Thank you

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, Pomona is a “portfolio” school that wants to see all scores and read them holistically. This is usually more of a concern with students who have taken 4 SATs and 5 ACTs in order to try to build up a solid superscore for other schools. Your son has two excellent Subject Test scores that satisfy Pomona’s requirements. I think the Spanish score will indicate 1) he tried a third test and didn’t do all that well 2) he probably isn’t going to be a Spanish major. Admission officers understand both points and don’t like missing out on students just because they took a “reach” test. Additional tests might improve his test transcript by showing an even wider range of skills, but I wouldn’t take them just to camouflage Spanish. He should be pretty confident that he’ll get 700+ (ideally 750+) before committing to them.

  • Kamal Adhed says:

    Can I take one or two SAT subjects tests in the same day that I am going to take the SAT I test? As I have a limited time to complete and submit my application to the university? Regards

  • Saad says:

    I have registered for 3 Sat Subject tests in October but now i feel i cant appear in all 3 simultaneously i tried to change it on the SAT website but it didn’t let me change it. is there anyway i could withdraw from one of the tests and get my money back for it?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      While College Board is clear about how fees are charge for ADDED tests, there is no information I can find online about how — or if — refunds are made for dropping a subject after registration. If you do not feel that you need your money back, then you can simply not take the third test. In order to obtain a refund, though, you’ll need to investigate with College Board support:
      Domestic: 866-756-7346
      International: 212-713-7789

  • dhruthi says:

    Can I choose two subjects and attend it on two different dates

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You can do 1 subject on each of two dates, but you’ll pay for two registration fees. There is no reason on the College Board side or on the college side why you can’t submit tests from multiple dates.

  • Matt says:


    My son is interested in computer engineering and/or finance. He has taken general SAT test and obtained a score around 2150. He plans to take one subject SAT (Math level 1 or level 2). He feels more comfortable with math level 1, since the his school math courses do not cover all contents of math level 2. I have two questions for you:

    1) He can do SAT of math level 2 but score may not be as high as wished. Meth level 1 seems much easier for him. Do you recommend him to take math level 1 or try math level 2? Do those top universities more recognize SAT of math level 2?

    2) Most universities recommend two subject SAT tests. However, he may not have enough time to prepare for another subject SAT test. Thus, would it be helpful to submit score of only one Subject SAT test (math)? Or perhaps only submitting score of general SAT test would be a better option?

    Look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much in advance.


    • Art Sawyer says:

      This is a tough decision that many students face. A school such as MIT states no preference, but that is easier to do when your 25th – 75th percentile range for admitted students is 780 – 800. Many engineering programs do ask specifically for Math 2 (although many don’t require Subject Tests at all). Your son should take practice tests in Math 1 and Math 2 from the Official College Board Guide to Subject Tests. The Math 2 is more challenging, but it has a more lenient curve. It is more widely accepted at top engineering programs, so can be more useful overall.

      There is no reason that you can’t send a single Subject Test. In fact, if you don’t use Score Choice, all of your SAT and Subject Test scores are sent automatically. As long as you feel that your score(s) are strong enough, I would include them.

      • Paul says:

        I took the Math Level II subject test as a Sophomore and received a 780. I normally would not ask whether I should retake this text but Math is going to be my intended major in college. I am worried that given the curve on that exam that admissions may look at my ability as sub par to other applicants. Can you offer some advise?
        ACT 35C, E35,M35,R34,S34
        Chemistry Subject Test 710 (junior year)
        Biology Subject Test 710 (freshman year)

  • Rishika says:

    Hi! I have a question. If I take the Subject SATs, but I realize that the college I am applying to does not require subject SATs, do I still have to send it?

  • Paul says:

    I have a question. I took the Math Level II subject test as a Sophomore and received a 780. I normally would not ask whether I should retake this test but Math is going to be my intended major in college. I am worried that given the curve on that exam that admissions may look at my ability as sub par to other applicants. Can you offer some advise?
    My other test scores are as follows:
    ACT 35C, E35,M35,R34,S34
    Chemistry Subject Test 710 (junior year)
    Biology Subject Test 710 (freshman year)

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The curve — I assume you are referring to the percentile distribution — on the Math 2 is extreme because of the testing pool. That doesn’t mean that a 780 is going to make you look sub-par. Standardized tests are not able to make the level of distinction to say that the ability level of an 800 scorer is higher than that of a 780 scorer. This may seem odd — isn’t an 800 higher? — but it’s a purely mathematical function of the test’s reliability. I think it would be a mistake for you to focus on a retest.

  • Rachel says:

    Thanks for being such a beautiful soul.
    I wanted to ask if i take an additional test than the ones I have registered for how much extra do I need to pay or it would be the same as the original? What would be the procedure?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Each additional test is $20. A Language with Listening test is $26. The cost is the same whether you add the tests when you register or after. In fact, unless you want to add a Listening test, all you really need to do is show up. The Subject Test booklet will contain all of the tests, and you will be allowed to do 1, 2, or 3. If you paid for fewer than you take, they’ll simply bill you the additional fees. If you want to make sure that things are taken care of ahead of time, or you are adding a Listening test, I’d recommend contacting College Board at 866-756-7346 (Domestic) or 212-713-7789 (International). You may also be able to make the change via your online account.

  • Steven says:


    I’m about to send scores for my early action deadlines and was just going to submit all of my scores from my SAT and not score choice. However, I took SAT subject tests on October 1st and have not received the scores back yet. If I choose not to send those scores right at this moment, will my colleges see my scores as score choiced?

    Let me know!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I may be misunderstanding your question, so I am going to try to over-answer.

      Colleges never see scores as “Score Choiced” or non-Score Choiced. They simply get a report (usually via an electronic update) with the scores that you have asked to be reported. If you’d like to see your October scores before sending them, that’s your prerogative. If you then send them along later, they’ll simply be added to your file — no questions asked. The big caveat surrounds timing. If you want your Subject Test scores to be considered, you need to meet the college deadlines. Even if your scores miss the November 1 deadline, the admission office may consider them if they have not acted on your application yet. Bottom line: try not to cut it close, because it is incredibly stressful.

      Even colleges that expect “all scores” generally make an exception for Subject Tests, so you should be fine with deciding which ST’s to send along. Just pay attention to the deadlines!

  • Heather says:

    Hi, Georgetown university requires all subject tests be sent, I took the SAT, ACT, and subject tests, and I want to send ACT scores, not the SAT scores. So, if I need to send all scores, wouldn’t that automatically cause the SAT scores to send? Because if I deselect the SAT scores, the status shows up as “some scores” will be sent to Georgetown, not all scores. Is there a way to prevent this, any solutions? Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      If you want to send just Subject Test scores, then it sounds like you are doing things correctly. You are, indeed, only sending some of your College Board scores. This information is purely for your benefit. Georgetown does not see whether some or all scores have been selected.

      Here’s the rub, though: Georgetown expects to receive your SAT scores even if you are submitting the ACT. “Georgetown requires that you submit scores from all test sittings of the SAT, ACT, and SAT II Subject Tests.” So if your intent is to follow Georgetown’s rules explicitly, then you would need to send your full College Board set of scores.

  • John says:

    My daughter is applying to a good number of top 20 schools (in addition to her safeties). Transcript (rigor and grades) will be stellar. All A’s and many AP/IB courses (including Bio, Chem and Physics). Her SAT (old) is 670CR/780M/780W. She has an 800 Math 2 score. She has almost all 5s in her APs but no science AP scores yet (all math, English and humanities). She is applying to schools as a Biology major. My question is given her academic profile, what score on the Biology Subject Test would you submit to a top 20 school, if it was optional? Do you think it has to be above a 750? Thank you so much! (PS the reason she is late taking the Bio Subject test is because the IB curriculum is two years long, as opposed to the AP’s one year curriculum).

  • nikitha says:

    I’ve registered for 2 subject tests and now i want to take 3, i have a week left for the test. How do i change?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Just show up. Unless you forgot to sign up for a listening test, you’ll be able to add a third test right then (the testing booklet includes all of the exams). College Board will bill you for the additional test. For once, College Board makes something simple. If you’ve forgotten to take a listening test, I think you are too late. If listening is in your plans, give College Board a call and see if anything can be done.

  • Sam Kim says:

    Mr. Sawyer,
    I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find the answer to my questions so I was hoping you would be able to answer it. When colleges say that they want two subject tests, do the two test have to be from two different subjects or can it be two tests from the same subject? For example history is my strong suit so can I take world history and us history for my two subject tests or is that not allowed because they are both under the category of history?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Like so much involving Subject Tests, it depends.
      1) Many science and engineering programs ask for Subject Tests in specific areas such as Math 2 and a hard science. Since you are wondering about the history tests, I’m guessing STEM is not you.
      2) There are a handful of schools that ask for Subject Tests in different categories (University of California was like this before they dropped the Subject Tests), but those are sometimes colleges with test flexible policies that allow different tests to fulfill different requirements — e.g. pick one test from column A, one from column B, and one from column C.
      3) Just because it is not forbidden does not mean that you should do it. Subject Tests are an opportunity to show depth and breadth. Submitting US and World History tests does not show as much breadth as US History and Biology. However, if those are clearly your strongest areas, I would not shy away from it. A good World History score will help more than a bad Physics score. The no-no is Math 1 and Math 2. While not specifically forbidden under many policies, it just doesn’t make any sense.

  • Anne Bryant says:

    First, let me say that your input and information is phenomenal!! Thank you for the time and energy you put into helping students and parents:) Here’s my question: Son has applied to Stanford (submitted this weekend). He has sent in his SAT I score and his ACT score (one sitting each). Stanford requires all of those scores. So he is good there. The uncertainty comes with their wording about the SAT 2 Subject Test scores. Stanford’s website says that since Subject Tests are optional “we welcome the self-reporting of these results in your application”. My son had taken the Literature test and the US History test last spring. He reported the Literature score on his application but not the US History score since he was not happy with that one. He then took the Math 2 test in October and reported that Math 2 score on his application. So he has self-reported two Subject Tests on the application, which follows Stanford’s instructions. Question is, does he or does he not need to report the US History score??? It is technically not part of their testing requirement that states they require all scores (that is listed when talking about SAT I and ACT scores). Have I lost you? Or do you understand our confusion and our question?? Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You didn’t lose me only because I’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs specifically for paths involving Stanford policies. Your son does not need to report US History. Your reading is correct in that the “all scores” applies to the SAT Reasoning and ACT. Colleges mean well when they construct their policies, but they don’t always think through student concerns.

  • EunJee says:

    Hello~ I have a quick question about the SAT subject tests and score reporting 🙂
    I would like to take advantage of the free four colleges send of when you sign up for the SAT. I have already taken the SAT, and a couple SAT 2 tests (Math 2, Chem, and soon Korean) and have decent but not perfect scores. I am planning on taking the Spanish SAT 2 test much later in the year, and I was wondering would that mean the “free four college sends” that I send now (not including the Spanish SAT2 test) be meaningless since my future Spanish SAT 2 test wasn’t sent with it? In other words, would I need to send future score reports to the same schools I sent them to now since it did not include the Spanish SAT 2 test?

    Thank you for your time and your wonderful article~

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Score reports only include test scores as of the relevant test date. So, yes, you would need to send future score reports if you want colleges to have your Spanish score. Keep in mind, though, that you also receive four free reports when you sign up for the Subject Tests (for example, when you take Spanish). One problem with using the free (“included” is probably the better word, since you are paying to take the test) reports is that you will not have the opportunity to review your scores. In order to use Score Choice, you will need to pay for additional reports.

  • Ron says:


    My niece showed up today (Nov.5th) to take the chinese language and listening test but forgot to bring her CD player and was turned away. She needs this test score to apply to two of her top choices. The SAT site says that the test is only given in November but there must be another option for a kid who made a mistake on this test day. Can anything be done? We are willing to travel anywheres to make this happen. Any help of suggestions would be very helpful.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I’m so sorry for your niece. That must be quite distressing for her. Unfortunately, I know of no testing fallback for your niece. Makeup test days are sometimes available, but these involve test center closings (a fire, road closures, etc.). There is no provision for an individual student to take a makeup exam. There are also no other dates for the Chinese ST. I would call College Board (even if you have already called them) and throw yourself at the mercy of the court. See if they can find a test center that did need to schedule a makeup and beg to be allowed to go there. They’ll likely deny the request, which is why the need for begging.

      College admission offices tend to be more understanding than the College Board. I would contact her top choices and see what they can do. A number of colleges do allow students to skip Subject Tests in the event of financial hardship or the lack of a test center. While it would be better to have a Subject Test result, the lack of one may not disqualify her. Explain the situation and see what they are willing to do.

  • Mustafa says:

    I recently applied for my SAT Subject tests and instead of thinking about it and then deciding i rushed to applying for all 3 of my maths, physics and chemistry tests on the same day.
    Now i want to change the date for my chemistry and physics test and i was wondering that how do i do it? Like all the three tests are imprinted on the same tickets so if i change the tests dates for 2, what will happen to the third one? Like if i go ahead and change my test dates it lest me choose which tests do i want on the new date but i am worried that it will cancel my 3rd test that i wanna take on the same previous date! Any idea, please help me with this i have less than a week now!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      As far as I know, you will not be able to accomplish exactly what you want to do — at least not without paying additional fees. The first thing to keep in mind is that you are not obligated to take the tests for which you signed up, and you are not limited to taking those tests. If registration fees are not a concern, then the simplest solution is to sign up for the new date for Chemistry and Physics. When you show up next week, simply take the math test of your choice. Colleges will not receive a report of you having “skipped” chem and physics. You won’t receive a refund of your fees, but there is no other downside. I’m not sure if College Board will allow you to get any sort of fee recovery by moving two of the tests to a new date. At minimum, you’ll have to pay the basic registration fees. I would recommend trying to call College Board about your very specific case.

  • Dan says:

    I just received my SAT subject test scores and they were disappointing in that they were 610 in English and 680 in Math2. I have a 4.2 GPA, I’m an IB diploma student and have a 33 on my ACT. Will these low SAT subject scores jeopardize my chances at 2 highly selective schools on my short list? How important is it for me to take them again? I have an interview for my top choice school (a Military Academy that does not require these scores) that conflicts with a re-take this weekend. I have already had two interviews for a nomination, should I take the SAT subject tests again or go to the congressional interview? The interview is only offered this one day.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I apologize for the delay in replying to you. I’m afraid that part of your situation — nominations and appointments to the military academies — falls outside of my area of expertise. I would hate for you to miss an important opportunity at your top choice school. Let me present a few things regarding Subject Tests. Your scores are low relative to the typical Subject Test scores seen at the most highly selective schools. You might consider a few questions:
      1) Do the 2 highly selective colleges REQUIRE Subject Tests?
      2) Do those colleges allow for the ACT in lieu of Subject Tests?
      3) Do you feel that you will bring up your scores substantially with a retake (700’s or even 750+)?

      Depending on your answers, you may want to consider not submitting Subject Test scores.

  • Will says:


    I took three SAT IIs for the first time today. Of the schools I’m applying to, Harvard and Cornell require two SAT IIs, and Northwestern strongly recommends the same.

    I felt okay, but not great, on the tests I took today: Math II, Lit, and Physics. Based on my own predictions from estimated raw scores, I scored between the 80th and 90th percentiles for all three.

    When opting to have these scores sent immediately (before I see them), should I send all three scores (to Harvard, Cornell, and Northwestern)? I have heard varied opinions online on whether this is a good or a bad idea. Will they primarily consider my two highest scores? (Also, Cornell doesn’t participate in normal SAT Score Choice. Is anyone aware of their policies for SAT II Score Choice? Otherwise, I’ll call admissions.)

    Harvard permits January SAT testing, however, so this would seem to indicate that I could wait until I get my scores on December 22 and then choose the two strongest scores to send to them. Would this be advisable?

    Likewise, would it be useful to send the two strongest scores to other schools I’m applying to (Columbia, Brown, Vanderbilt) where SAT IIs are considered, even if I’m sending them past the deadline? Or would their lateness nullify any contribution they might have to my application?

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It’s tempting to get your scores first, but I generally recommend against that for December testing. Delays can happen, mistakes can be made. When faced with 3 Subject Test scores, most colleges will consider the strongest scores. Cornell does ask for all Subject Test scores, because “this allows our selection committee to review the scores that are most supportive to your application. It is to your advantage to send all scores!” If you think that you are in danger of having one of the scores considerably lower than the others, the risk of waiting may be worthwhile for Harvard and Northwestern. It’s better to think in terms of scores rather than percentiles, because the population taking the 3 tests is varied. For the schools you are applying to, you’ll want Subject Test scores over 700 (over 750 is better, of course). I don’t know the policies for Columbia, Brown, and Vanderbilt, but many colleges will add information to your application as long as you submitted a full application by the deadline and as long as your application has not yet been considered. Strong scores can help your testing portfolio.

  • Jim says:


    I have sent my daughters’s Nov 5, SAT and her May 7, Chem SAT to the schools she is applying. She was scheduled for the Dec 3, 2016, SAT as well. I have been told that the Dec 3, SAT scores need to be automatically sent to ensure they arrive on time. When I used score choice, I was allowed to select the Nov and May scores. The Dec SAT had not been administered yet but was checked off to be sent (don’t think I could change, appeared to be grayed out). The SAT score report invoice indicates “University of (insert school) will receive SOME (they capitalized some) of your scores”. Under selected tests it lists the Nov SAT with he score, the May Chem SAT with her score and the Dec SAT with “Scores NOT Available” under the Dec SAT “Subjects & Scores”. Does this indicate that the Nov and May SAT scores are in the process of being sent and the Dec SAT will be automatically sent, with no further action from me, when available.


    • Art Sawyer says:

      It sounds like you did everything correctly. Score Choice is only applicable once scores are available. I agree that it is best not to risk missing a deadline just to see the December scores before you send them. Most colleges superscore the SAT, and some of the ones that do not require all scores be sent (so delay is pointless). I believe that your scores will be sent without further action.

  • steve says:


    I took the math II subject test as a sophomore today. I forgot the law of cosines, and consequentially missed 2 questions. After reviewing a lot of the questions i think that there is 1 more that i might have miss-bubbled. I am definitely going into something math-related in college and i am aiming for top schools, with the ones that dont exercise college choice as options as of now. I am really scared that i might have missed a few more, and have gotten a 780-790.

    Should i cancel my score and retake the test just in case?

    Should i wait for the score? If i do, and get a 780, for example, i would take it again and most likely get an 800 (wasn’t too prepared for the question types on this test). Would it look bad that i took it twice in that scenario?

    Please tell me what you think

    Should i wait for the score and then decide?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Cancelling would be a big mistake. There is essentially no risk with Subject Test scores, as Score Choice is always an option. Second, it is extremely unlikely that a school would be swayed by am 800 versus 780. Third, if you cancel your scores, you’ll never find out how you really did. If you do get a 780 or 790, I would normally recommend against retaking, but that’s a personal decision.

  • Mark says:

    Happy Holidays!

    I had some questions, now that Dec 2016 Subject Test scores are in (have to decide if to send, by this coming week).

    My Background:
    ACT: 35 composite, GPA: 3.4, Strong EC and strong essays
    ACT: 36 on Reading / English, 34 science, 33 math
    Aiming for Ivies, Stanford, Duke, etc.

    Subject Tests from the sittings, in this order:
    1. Math 2: 690 / History 620
    2. Math 2: 750 / Literature 600
    3. Math 2: 700 / Literature 630

    So, here are my questions:
    1. For schools (like Princeton) that “recommend, but don’t require subject tests”:
    Option A: Don’t send any subject test scores, and let the ACT and other aspects of my application speak for themselves.
    Option B: Just send the Math 750 score as Lit / History are too low. If so, is it strange to only send one score?
    Note: As ACT Math score was lowest (33), could think that I took Math II only (no other subjects) to show proficiency? Does 750 math do the trick vis-a-vis 33 on ACT math?
    Option C: Send Math 750 and Literature 630 OR Math 750 and Literature 600 (as from the same sitting)

    2. Schools that don’t allow score choice and “recommend, but don’t require” (like Stanford):
    Option A: Don’t sent any, as they would see all the scores, and that would be bad…
    Option B: I don’t think there is one? 🙂

    Thanks for your advice!

    PS: Tutoring with Compass was fantastic for the ACT (Ryan for Math, Kate for English/writing)

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Given how strong your ACT scores are, I think sending either your History or Lit scores would be a net negative. While your Math 2 score is good, I’m not sure that it significantly improves your testing portfolio (whereas it could create the question mark that you identify in B). Your 33 Math is not exactly weak. I would choose option A for both sets of schools.

      That’s great! I’m glad that Ryan and Kate were able to work well for you.

  • Mark Chapwick says:

    A quick follow-up (and thanks so much for you help!):

    A school counselor said that the 750 in Math II would show a “high level of proficiency in upper level math” – helpful given that I won’t have an AP Calculus score until June (taking B/C now, and will have my first B in High School). We all agree that the Literature / History stays off the books… she also seems to think they don’t have time to think down a path like “hmm, I wonder why he didn’t take a 2nd subject test…” they simply look at what is presented to them.

    Does her argument sway you at all, or would you still advise the Option B (Don’t send any scores to anyone)?

    As an aside, Penn says for applicants to the Business School that the Math II test is the only one “recommended”, so they probably would be fine with just that test… the other schools say two tests, but all tests are recommended, not required…

    Oh the things to stress over before X-mas!
    Thanks again for your advice.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I’m usually of the opinion that a tie goes to the counselor (or to the way you feel most comfortable, since it is your app!), and I don’t think there is a strong difference between the remaining options. My disagreement with the counselor — to the extent that there is one — is small on both sides of the equation. I’d expect someone with your ACT scores to have a 700+ M2, so I’m not sure how much new information the score really provides. While it’s true that students can get too wrapped up in worrying about all the ways admission officers might interpret every little thing, I think there is some truth to the notion that Subject Test scores work better as a team. Wharton is a good example, though, of where M2 would clearly be a plus. It settles any potential question marks around whether or not you can handle a math-intensive curriculum. Take the night (or day) to think about it, go with the option you feel best about, and then let go of the stress. Once we put aside the Lit/History question, I think the remaining options are a coin toss.

  • Mark Chapwick says:


    I am applying to an Ivy that has a Dual Degree program (Business & Engineering). They say the process is you select the Dual Degree program as your “primary choice”, and then select a single degree choice (like Business) as your secondary choice. You are prompted to write specific essays for each.

    1. Their FAQ section says that choosing the Dual Degree program does not affect your chances of acceptance into the Single Degree – that if you get denied in the Dual Degree program (which is very likely in my case I predict), the Single Degree options “can only provide you with back-up options” (in their words)… Unlike Michigan, where you are first accepted into the Liberal Arts college, and THEN they review the request for the special program (Ross), this Ivy does it the other way around it seems.
    Question: Do you think that applying to the Dual Degree program has any influence, positive or negative on your application to the Single Degree school (the traditional way to apply), or do they truly keep these two decisions completely separate (like admissions officers from each program only see what is submitted for that specific program)?
    For example, would the Single Degree admissions-review people see the Dual Degree request / essay, and say, “He may not have made it into that highly selective program, but at least he tried and his essays were great, so we’re going to score him a bit higher than he would have been for our Single Degree school”, or would they not even see the essays from the Dual Degree part of the application?

    Another way to look at this, is, if my FIRST choice is really the single degree option at the school, does applying for the Dual Degree program have a positive or negative effect on my chances to get accepted to the single degree option?

    Thanks again for your help.

  • Mark Chapwick says:

    Hi Again,
    Do schools like Dartmouth consider the major / school you choose when they make their admissions decision? For example, I like one of their modified majors in the Engineering school, however I think my application is stronger from the lenses of a liberal arts perspective. Should I apply to a degree like Economics (adding some engineering courses as electives) as this would meet my career goals, and would give me a better chance of getting accepted to the school, or, do schools like Dartmouth first accept you, and then look at what school (Engineering or Arts / Sciences) you want to go to after that? Another way to look at it: is it possible that they could say, “we would have accepted him if he had applied to a liberal arts major, however he applied to an engineering program and doesn’t meet our standards so he is denied from the school?”

  • Best says:

    I have to send my score included Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology before 25/02/2017, that means I have to take all subjects at once in 21/01/2017 test date.
    Can I do that ? It seems that 3 subjects are limit for single test date.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You are correct that only 3 Subject Tests can be taken on a single test date. You will need to decide which 3 are most essential and see if the college (or scholarship?) to which you are applying will accept any substitutes.

  • kylie says:

    hey, I signed up 3 SAT subject tests this saturday: Biology, Chemistry and Math1, and at this moment I dont feel quite confident with Biology so am I able to not sit the Biology test on the day and still take Chemistry and Math1?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Absolutely. You will receive a test booklet with all of the tests and can choose to take any 1, 2, or 3 of them. It does not matter that you registered for Biology and skipping it will not impact your score report in any way. Good luck on Saturday.

  • Darren says:

    Hi I am in Junior College taking A Levels but I am taking Chemistry at a lower level and I am not ready for the SAT Subject Test, but ready for Math Level 2. Will this hinder me from applying to colleges which require 2 subject tests? (i.e. MIT Math and Science required) Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, it would hinder you at MIT. You’ll want to find a way to take a science test. Even a low score would be better than being disqualified for not meeting the application requirements. MIT addresses your situation directly and does not seem to make exceptions: “All students must meet the testing requirements. You may not substitute other exams (such as IB, A-Levels, etc.) for the above testing requirements.”

  • Harrison says:

    Hi I am a junior in high school. I want to apply for Harvard but haven’t taken subject tests, and bombed my essay. Is there a way to do it all on one test day or weekend? Also can I take an essay from one test but use my other scores from another test?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      You cannot take both the SAT and Subject Tests on the same day (or weekend), but you should be able to find dates for both — the new August SAT date is great addition for rising seniors! Superscoring decisions are up to the individual college. Harvard gives a fairly generic policy: “We will evaluate your application noting the highest test scores in each section across test dates for the SAT.” Keep in mind that the SAT Essay is not a major component of your application.

  • Shoma says:

    Hi Art,
    My son is a junior, he scored 1570 on SAT with essay (7,6, 7). He also took SAT subjects tests, Biology (800), Chemistry (800) and Math 2 (790). His AP scores in Biology and Chemistry are 5. But his French SAT score is only 560, and he took it separately in Jan 2017, he is really upset about it. Does he need to report the French score since most universities ask for only two subject tests? Also does he need to repeat the SAT? Thanks,

    • Art Sawyer says:

      He should not worry about the French score. Even colleges that require all scores (i.e. do not recognize Score Choice) generally make an exception for Subject Test scores. He should plan on submitting his 3 great scores. I don’t see any reason for him to repeat the SAT. He is nearly maxed out and his essay scores are strong based on what we have seen. His testing portfolio looks complete and looks top-notch.

  • Keshav says:

    Hi I have recently got my sat subject test scores which included maths 2,physics and chemistry. I have not perforned well in the maths 2 test and I was wondering whether i could substitute the score of this test with a new test i give and sumbit all the three scores to my college.could you please help me out with this?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      In almost all cases colleges allow students to submit the Subject Test scores of their choosing. If you take a 4th subject or retake Math 2, you will be able to decide which scores to use.

  • Keshav says:

    so does that mean that i could send the physics and chem score of my previous sat test with maths 2 score of the sat test i give now?

  • AB says:


    This question is on behalf of a student’18 interested in pre-Med programs.
    He is planning to sit for 4 SAT Subject tests: the Chem, Bio, and US History for sure.
    (We understand that max 3 Subject Test can be taken on a given day)

    A few schools may specifically require Math Subject test, even for students interested in pre-Med programs.

    Would the following strategy be reasonable as for Math?
    Take first Math1. If the Math 1 score is relatively high, attempt Math 2 at the next opportunity. If Math 1 not high enough, do that again.

    In the above scenario, What is more “valuable” a relatively high score in math 1 (say 740+) or a medium score in Math 2 (say 640+) ?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The level of difference you mention as an example (740+ vs 640+) would make the answer easy — Math 1 wins. Keep in mind that Math 1 has a more difficult scale to compensate for the easier material. In theory a group of students taking both tests would end up with similar scores. For an individual student, though, things are never that simple. If the student is doing well in Pre-Calc this year (or is already in Calc and did well last year), then he or she should be able to take a shot at Math 2. I prefer students to view Math 2 as the default and to fall back to Math 1 if it is just not going to work (some students don’t have enough grounding in the advanced material despite the easier scaling). Every school that wants to see a Math ST will accept Math 2. Not every school will accept Math 1 (if you’ve found that every school on the student’s list is ok with Math 1, then that’s fine). Sometimes students rule out Math 2 because of a flawed interpretation of the percentile scores. They see how quickly the percentiles drop off even with a 700+ and they panic. Percentiles are not a valid means of comparison across the two tests. College Board and colleges understand that the tests are taken by different pools of students. Look for the best score rather than the best percentile.

      And we shouldn’t just talk about this in the hypothetical. The great thing about Subject Tests is that they are easy to proctor — even at home. Buy the Official Study Guide to All SAT Subject Tests, set aside 63 minutes (an hour for the test and 3 minutes to grade it), and the student knows where he or she stands. I don’t like to see students take actual administrations as trial runs.

  • Kat says:

    Hi Art,
    I took the ACT back in September and was planning on submitting that to colleges (C:36, E/R/M:36, S:35), but then I scored well enough on the PSAT to get semi-finalist status so I took the March SAT. I’m not expecting a stellar SAT score (~1500), so I’d rather leave that off my application, but I will submit it to those that require all SAT and ACT scores, and hope they’ll see that I took it after my ACT and assume I only did it for National Merit.

    I took the Math 2 subject test last June and got a 770, which is only 68th percentile, and I’m planning on taking the Chem subject test this June. Should I retake the Math 2 at this time? I’m planning on taking the AP Calc BC exam this May, so I would receive scores on this in time to send to colleges. I’m hoping to get a 5, but should definitely get a 4 on this, so would that make up for my Math 2 score?

    Additionally, for schools like the UCs, would I have to send my SAT score on top of my ACT score if I send them my subject test scores? I know you can pick either test and send all scores of that particular test, but can you combine ACT+subject tests?

    Thank you for your advice.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sounds like you are in an enviable position all around. If you do score in the 1500 range, I wouldn’t worry too much about the “require all scores” schools. They still emphasize the best aspects of a student’s performance. Your 36 (and almost a perfect 36!) will do the talking.

      The fact that there is a large percentile drop between 800 and 770 simply reflects the pool of students taking the test. Percentiles are beside the point when calculating how accurate a test is (its standard error of measure) or its predictive capability. Since you are taking Chem in June, would it be a bad idea to sit for an extra hour and retake M2? No, but you shouldn’t feel that it is necessary. Keep in mind that while some of the “all scores” schools are OK with Score Choice around Subject Tests (Yale and Stanford, for example), there are other colleges such as Cornell that want ALL Subject Tests. So you do have to decide whether the potential gain outweighs, say, getting a 750. Honestly, it’s a pretty minor factor in either direction.

      You shouldn’t think of AP Calc as making up for your Math 2 score. The AP test is not designed to be an admission test. Some admission offices will look at the scores (some will not), but you should view it as separate from STs. APs are also a good example of why percentiles are misleading. About 25% of students get a 5 on Calc AB; that doesn’t make it a so-so score.

      You can combine ACT and Subject Tests. The UC policy on sending your SAT scores along with your Subject Test scores is unclear. They require all SAT scores, but they do not specifically require all SAT and Subject Test scores (as you know, they don’t require Subject Tests at all). Unless your SAT score is weak, I would be inclined to send all scores, but you should have no issues if you choose to send only Subject Test scores from College Board.

      • Kat says:

        This is a super late response but I just wanted to thank you for your very thorough (and quick!) reply. The March SAT score came back as a 1520, so I’ll probably double check with the UC admissions office to see if it’s ok to not send it, and only send it to schools like Stanford that really require all scores. I’ll take your advice and not retake the math 2 since it would probably require more studying than I’d realistically do. Thank you again!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Hi Art,
    Is it particularly necessary for a student to take the actual SAT test before taking the subject tests?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      No, not at all. They test very different skills. Many sophomores will take Subject Tests in June, whereas we would almost never recommend that for the SAT. In terms of planning, the SAT and ACT share more in common than the SAT and its corporate-siblings, Subject Tests.

  • Anjaneya says:

    Hi Sir! suppose my SAT test is on May 6th and I plan to take my subject tests on June 3rd. So if I send my SAT score on 6th May to say 4-5 colleges, then is it necessary that subject test scores be sent along with the SAT score? I mean can’t I send my SAT score report to a set of colleges and then send my subject test score reports to the same colleges after I have taken them on a different test date?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, you can send your SAT scores separately from your Subject Test scores. You may not need to, however. With Score Choice, you can decide which test dates (in the case of Subject Tests, which subjects) go to colleges. So you can wait until after the June date and send all of your scores. In order to make this possible, however, you will not be able to take advantage of the “free” score reports included with registration. If you want to see your scores first — and it sounds like you do — then you will pay for additional reports. Since you are paying, why not include your May scores at the same time?

  • Julia says:

    Hi, Art.
    About the SAT Subject Registration: what should I do if my school isn’t listed, that is, if the School Finder can’t find it? I’m an international student, but still, the form won’t allow me to continue with my registration process if I haven’t found my school. Is there a code or something similar to indicate that my school isn’t listed?
    Thank you for the help!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I’m not aware of any “generic” code. Security concerns have made them tougher about requiring specifics. It sounds like you’ll need to call College Board. The international number is 1-212-713-7789.

  • kate says:

    I took the AP World History test my sophomore year and failed and I was planning on taking SAT subject tests and was deciding between taking Chemistry, Biology, Literature or Spanish. I recently had taken a practice SAT subject test in World History and found that I had gotten the majority of questions correct. I was wondering if it is reasonable or not to take the World History subject test to substitute for my AP test score to show that I had at least gained from the course. Or would this penalize me more when applying to colleges. Thank you for your help!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I’m sorry to hear that you struggled with AP World History — it’s a demanding course and test. I wouldn’t recommend thinking of the SAT Subject Test as substituting, per se. As you line up Subject Tests, simply think about the ones that will show you in the best light. In general, you’ll want to have Subject Test scores at about the same level as your average SAT section (200-800). In other words, if you got a 1380 on your SAT, Subject Test scores in the 700 range will tend to improve your “testing portfolio.” Those in the 650-700 range will probably not hurt you. Below that, you shouldn’t take the Subject Test (I’m speaking about my hypothetical case). If you did well on the World History ST, then take it! If you did well in the other subjects, take them, too! My point is to choose subjects in which you will show achievement rather than worrying about whether a college will otherwise feel that you gained nothing from a course. You certainly won’t be penalized for a good score.

  • KO says:

    I am trying to decide if my child should focus on the June 3rd SAT Subject Tests or the June 10th ACT. He already has a composite score of 31 (English: 34, reading:33, Math 29, Science :27). He will be a senior in August 2017. He intends applying to places like Cal Tech and MIT. He registered for the June ACT because we found out that colleges like Cal Tech do not allow you to submit any scores nor to update your scores, after you have put in an application. So, we to increase his ACT score in June. However, he did the Physics and Math 2 SAT Subject Tests in May and as a safeguard, we registered him for the June Tests. The problem is, we won`t see his scores until June 8th… 2 days before the ACT. The question is: should he be focusing on ACT prep. Or SAT Subject Test prep? Thanks, in advance.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I’m not sure that the guidance you received regarding score submission is completely accurate. Even for early applicants, CalTech accepts scores from the October test date and MIT accepts scores from the November test date (although I’d never recommend a student cut things that close). So your son will have additional opportunities for the ACT and Subject Tests. CalTech regularly has the most competitive scores in the country. I think he needs to bring up his ACT score in addition to doing well on his Subject Tests. [Not to scare you away, but the 25th-75th percentile scores for Math 2 at CalTech are 800-800. In other words, at least 75% of students get a perfect score.] Raising his ACT score will help him more universally, since not all colleges require Subject Tests. I would keep his focus on the June 10 ACT and hope for the best from the May Subject Tests. He would still have opportunities in August and October. Good luck to your son!

  • Devanley says:

    My son got a 790 in math 2 subject test. Math is his strongest subject and he’s planning to apply to Ivies. I know most applicants have 800 in math2. Should he retake the test? Thank you.

  • Tar Heel alum says:

    So my son is in state for UNC, but is on the borderline with test scores and GPA. He took the SATII in US History and Math 1. He made a 540 on US History and a 600 on Math 1. Should he send in just the Math 1 score? Neither?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Tar Heel,
      I don’t think that the Subject Test scores will help your son’s testing portfolio in this case. If he is borderline, the biggest impact he can make would be to raise his SAT score.

  • LilyAnn says:

    I am interested in applying to a few UC schools and I recently found out that they require all SAT scores, including Subject Tests to be sent in. I took two SAT Subject Tests and did really well on one, and really poorly on the other. On the UC application, can I just fill in only the test score that I did well on and not add the other test score? I know that I’ll have to send all scores in anyway, but I’m wondering if the UC admissions would only consider the good test score and ignore the other one since I wouldn’t add the bad score in the application.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I wish College Board and colleges would clean up their practices regarding Score Choice and Subject Tests. Even colleges with “no Score Choice” policies often make an exception for Subject Tests. The College Board website, however, does not tell students about those exceptions. For example, Stanford is an “all scores” college, but they explicitly make an exception for Subject Tests.

      As for the UC’s, I’ll quote the most relevant paragraph from the their Subject Tests page:

      “Remember, these are recommendations, not mandates. You will not be penalized for failing to take the SAT Subject Tests. On the other hand, submission of these test scores (just like submission of AP and/or IB scores) may add positively to the review of your application.”

      Note the use of “submission” and the comparison to AP scores. This implies that students *can* choose not to submit scores. Keep in mind that the College Board ultimately allows *you* to make the decision as to what is submitted. The counselors we work with often disagree with one another on this point. Some feel that Subject Tests are optional and that selective submission is acceptable. Others feel strongly that all scores are to be sent. Even the UC’s online application is open to interpretation in its wording of self-reporting. I would recommend adhering to your counselor’s advice on the topic. I would not recommend selective self-reporting followed up with a set of all scores. It’s best to stay consistent.

  • Michael says:

    I am at a loss about which of my scores to send. I currently have 790 Math 2, 740 Math 1, 760 US History, and 740 Biology E. I am applying to SCEA at Harvard and regular to many elite schools. Should I pick 2, send all, or something else? I am very disappointed because I know I can do better on all of these tests based on official practice tests, but I will not be retesting.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I recommend sending all of your scores except the Math 1. You should not beat yourself up. Your top 2 scores are 790/760. The difference between those and 800/800 is unlikely to be consequential. Bio adds more depth, whereas the Math 1 does not.

  • TJ says:

    My daughter took the Bio M subject test this past May as a Freshman. I didn’t realize we might not need to send all her subject test scores to the UCs, and so selected the 4 free to various UCs She didn’t do very well, receiving a 610. She plans to take another science subject test after either Chem next year or AP Physics the following year. Since we have already sent that score, how important is it for her to receive a higher score on a subsequent Bio M test vs a higher score on a different science subject test? She won’t be taking Bio again until senior year. How much will the low score taken as a freshman hurt her and how can she minimize the damage?
    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It’s unfortunate when something that usually makes a lot of sense — advance planning — causes problems. The UC’s don’t require Subject Tests, but they will look at them. There is an understanding, though, that students aren’t going to ace every ST they take and that the focus should be on the best scores. So I don’t think your daughter needs to worry about improving Bio M, per se, if she has other good candidates. I don’t believe there is a way to ask a UC to remove a Subject Test from a students record. The admission office will understand that it is from freshman year, and your daughter’s best way to minimize the damage is to do well elsewhere (in which case no one will care about Bio M).

      A bit of general advice for other readers. You only need to send scores to one UC campus. The scores are shared across the UC system. Also, I generally recommend staying away from the 4 free reports unless a) money is tight or b) you are nearing application deadlines. Otherwise it is good to see your scores first.

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