Frequently Asked Questions about SAT Subject Tests

Who needs to take SAT Subject Tests (SAT IIs)?
Why are SAT Subject Tests used by colleges?
How important are the SAT Subject Tests in my particular situation?
How should I interpret the SAT Subject Tests "required" vs. "recommended" vs. "will consider" language on applications?
How many subjects do I need to take?
Does it matter which subjects I take?
So which subjects SHOULD I take?
I’ve taken a practice test or SAT Subject Test already. Why do my percentiles seem so low? What is a good score?
Can I take the same subject more than once? Can I pick-and-choose which scores to send?
Is it useful (or common) to exceed the basic requirements?
Which test date should I choose? Can’t I just wait to take the SAT Subject Tests until the fall?
Do I need to take the Subject Tests in addition to the ACT?
Can I take more than one SAT Subject Test on the same day?
Can I take the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests on the same day?
What if I change my mind about which subjects or how many subjects I want to take?
In what order will I take the subjects on test day?
How do I register for the SAT Subject Tests?
Is an AP or Honors course a necessary prerequisite to do well on an SAT Subject Test? Do APs replace SAT Subject Tests?
Has the Math Level 1 been replaced by the Math Level 2?
But isn’t Math 2 harder and therefore more highly regarded?
I plan to take AP Calculus. When should I take Math 2?
What is on that Literature test? I heard it was easy.
I’m doing well in AP European History. Could I do well on the SAT Subject Test in World History?
Does it "look bad" for native speakers to take the Language test in their native language?


Who needs to take SAT Subject Tests (SAT IIs)?
Of the approximately 3,000 colleges and universities across the country, only around 100 use Subject Tests in their admissions decisions. As you might imagine, these 100 tend to be the most selective schools with the most competitive applicant pools. In order to determine whether you need to take Subject Tests, consult the comprehensive list of all the colleges at which SAT Subject Tests are relevant. The list provides specific detail on every college’s policy as well as an external link to each college’s admissions website where they elaborate on the policy in their own words. Put simply, if there is any likelihood that you may want to apply to a college on this list, then you should take SAT Subject Tests.

NOTE: For the class of 2012 and beyond, the UC schools are no longer requiring students to submit Subject Test scores for admission. However, some campuses and majors may recommend particular Subject Tests.



Why are SAT Subject Tests used by colleges?
Selective colleges often want more test information than the SAT alone provides. Subject Tests are content-specific tests that, unlike AP exams, are not tied to a particular curriculum. Each Subject Test is broad enough in scope to be accessible to students from a variety of academic backgrounds, but specific enough to be useful to colleges as a measure of a student’s expertise in that subject.



How important are the SAT Subject Tests in my particular situation?
As a general rule, the more selective the admissions environment is at a particular college, the more weight carried by the Subject Tests. At the most competitive schools, Subject Test scores are often as important as the SAT or ACT. Other colleges may consider Subject Test scores only if the scores add positively to the student’s application.



How should I interpret the SAT Subject Tests "required" vs. "recommended" vs. "will consider" language on applications?
“Required” means exactly what it says: your application will not even be considered unless you submit the required number of Subject Test scores. “Recommended” is the most elastic term and should be interpreted in light of a college’s overall competitiveness and in consultation with its admissions office. Although Stanford only “highly recommends” the Subject Tests, in most cases it would pose a severe handicap to an applicant not to submit Subject Tests. Schools that “consider” the Subject Tests generally treat them as supplemental material that can give a more complete picture of a student’s academic abilities. The University of Notre Dame is typical in its statement: “Subject Tests, AP tests, and IB tests are only used in the application process if scores enhance an application. They are also used for credit and placement in the first year of studies.”



How many subjects do I need to take?
The vast majority of colleges requiring or recommending Subject Tests limit their expectation to TWO subjects. There are no longer any colleges in the United States that expressly require THREE subjects. However, there are other colleges where three subjects are recommended and many more where showing a wide range of academic strengths would be helpful. Bottom line: if you can show more than two subjects with relatively “good” scores, you should do so.



Does it matter which subjects I take?
At most colleges and for most programs, you can take whichever subjects you choose. Certain colleges do have specific requirements. Some other colleges have certain programs, such as engineering, that require the Math 2. Be sure to consult our list at www.subject-tests.com to check the specific policies of the colleges on your list.



So which subjects SHOULD I take?
Simply put, the ones that will meet the requirements of the colleges to which you will apply, and the ones on which you can most easily produce the highest scores. Reviewing your strongest classes and taking practice tests will usually make the decision clear.



I’ve taken a practice test or SAT Subject Test already. Why do my percentiles seem so low? What is a good score?
Subject Tests are scored on the same 200-800 scale as the SAT, but they are normed against their own reference groups. Simply put, percentile scores on the 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. The average Subject Test scores of admitted students are similar to the average SAT scores. So your SAT scores (and the median range of colleges on your list) provide the easiest way of judging your scores. For example, a student with SAT scores of 620CR, 600M, and 630W should be pleased with Subject Tests scores in the mid-600s. A student with SAT scores of 710CR, 720M, and 700W would be disappointed with those same scores.



Can I take the same subject more than once? Can I pick-and-choose which scores to send?
You can take Subject Tests more than once, and colleges will generally not interpret this situation negatively. If you send schools all of your scores, most will still use your highest scores. However, the College Board does offer a “score choice” option. This means that if a college allows for score choice, you can choose to send or omit any of your Subject Test scores, even those taken on the same day. As no one really wants to take the test officially more times than is necessary, though, Compass can provide practice tests to help you be sure that you are ready to do well.



Is it useful (or common) to exceed the basic requirements?
Sometimes less really is more, but if you can produce good scores on more subjects than are minimally required, then you probably should do so. Of course there is a fine line between doing too much and not enough. If you could do well on the Chemistry Subject Test with a reasonable amount of brushing up, then you should take it. If doing well would require weeks of study that will interfere with other important demands on your time and state of mind, then it probably isn’t worth exceeding the requirement. Some schools only look at your 2 best scores. Taking a third test or re-taking a test can only help you in this situation.



Which test date should I choose? Can’t I just wait to take the SAT Subject Tests until the fall?
The May and June dates are the best SAT Subject Tests for most students. Which of those two dates you choose depends on many factors, but the biggest factor is usually whether or not you are in AP classes. If you are NOT in AP’s and you are taking Subject Tests that correspond with academic classes, then it is almost always better to choose the June test date. You want to take the Subject Test as close as possible to the date of your final exam in the corresponding class. (Of course, this also presumes that you are not planning to take the SAT in June.) The decision is trickier if you are taking AP exams. If you take the May Subject Tests, you will be taking your AP exam one to two weeks later. If you opt for the June date, then you will be taking your AP exams two to three weeks before your Subject Tests. You’ll need to assess whether you would rather use your Subject Test as extra incentive to start studying early for the AP, or whether you would prefer to worry about the Subject Test only once you have finished the AP. You may also want to ask your teacher what will be happening in class in the final weeks before the AP and after the AP. Some teachers will be able to give you a firm recommendation of May versus June. The registration deadline for the June test is already well-past by the time students receive May scores. Some students choose to give themselves the option of splitting their subject tests or re-taking a subject by registering for both May and June. You cannot register for both the SAT and the Subject Tests on the same date, however. The fall test dates are acceptable for all colleges, but there are drawbacks. For the history and science tests, postponing from spring to fall would almost always be a painful mistake. Unless you plan to keep studying the material all summer, you should take the test at the end of the school year, as this is when you are most prepared. The Literature test is frequently taken in the fall with equally good results, as it measures reading and interpretation skills that tend not to grow stale. Finally, taking more tests in the fall of your senior year will add one more thing to your plate while you are coping with college applications. Of course, missing May and June does not mean that you should give up on Subject Tests. May and June may be the optimal dates to take the Subject Tests, but your college goals should be the first priority in any plan.



Do I need to take the Subject Tests in addition to the ACT?
It depends. There are a significant number of colleges whose official policy states that they will accept the ACT alone in lieu of both the SAT and the required Subject Tests. This list includes highly selective colleges such as Yale, Brown, Penn, and Duke. There is not consensus within the college admissions community as to whether this policy should be taken at face value. What is clear is that the large majority of students admitted to these schools submit Subject Tests. You should think of opting out of Subject Tests only if you feel that your scores would do a considerable disservice to your application. Please consult your college counselor.



Can I take more than one SAT Subject Test on the same day?
Yes. You can take one, two, or three subjects on the day of the test.



Can I take the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests on the same day?
No. You can take the SAT or up to three Subject Tests, but you cannot take both.



What if I change my mind about which subjects or how many subjects I want to take?
When you register for a test date you are asked to indicate which subjects you intend to take. However, you may change your mind as late as the minute before the test begins. The exceptions are the Language Tests with Listening which are only offered in November; these require advance registration. If you take more subjects than you paid for in your original registration, the College Board will bill you for the difference.



In what order will I take the subjects on test day?
This is entirely up to you, except for the November language with listening tests that must always be taken first. Several issues come into play: Which subject requires the most concentration and energy for you? Which subject are you most worried about nailing on that particular day, and which ones might you retake anyway? Feel free to consult with us in the office or with your tutor about it.



How do I register for the SAT Subject Tests?
You can register online at http://www.collegeboard.com or you can call 866-756-7346. The earlier you register the more likely you are to receive your first choice test center. You will be asked which tests you intend to take, but you will be allowed to change your mind at any time.



Is an AP or Honors course a necessary prerequisite to do well on an SAT Subject Test? Do APs replace SAT Subject Tests?
The Subject Tests do not have a specific recommended curriculum like the APs. Generally speaking, though, the more rigorous the corresponding academic class, the better prepared you are likely to be for the Subject Test. However, other factors include your aptitude for and interest in the subject matter, how well it was taught in school and what the focus of the class was, and, perhaps most importantly, what your other options are for Subject Tests. You should take practice tests to confirm your choices and shed light on any gaps to be filled. Unfortunately, APs are not designed to be admission tests, so they do not replace the need for Subject Tests.



Has the Math Level 1 been replaced by the Math Level 2?
Most colleges that use Subject Tests in their admissions decisions will accept Math 1. The Math 1 has become less commonly taken by students in the last few years, however, and experts in the admissions arena are split on whether the Math 1 is now less highly regarded than other subjects. You should also not consider yourself unqualified for the Math 2 simply because it is “harder.” The Math 1 questions are generally easier than those on the Math 2, but the tests are scaled so that the exams have the same average difficulty. Unless the college or a program (like engineering) specifically states a preference for the Math 2, you should give consideration to the Math 1.



But isn’t Math 2 harder and therefore more highly regarded?
Yes and no. Math 2 covers more advanced content. Generally you need to have completed a pre-calculus class with a solid “B” or better to feel comfortable on the Math 2, whereas the content of the Math 1 test extends only through Algebra II and basic trigonometry. Some advanced math students (pre-calculus or beyond) make the mistake of taking Math 1 instead of Math 2 on the premise that it will be easier to score higher on the Math 1. The Math 2 test is scaled more generously than the Math 1 test to compensate for its more advanced concepts. Finally, although the Math 2 is, in some cases, more highly regarded than Math 1, that doesn’t mean that a student who could score 650 on Math 1 should take the Math 2 and score 550. Bottom line, take the test that is most appropriate for you based on your math classes and your math skills. You should confirm your instincts with practice tests.



I plan to take AP Calculus. When should I take Math 2?
Generally speaking, the best time to take the Math 2 is at the end of an Honors Pre-Calculus course. The AP Calculus curriculum takes you well beyond the focus of the Math 2. However, you would still be using some of the same fundamental skills and formulas. Some advanced math students take Pre-Calculus in 10th grade and take the Math 2 at the end of 10th grade, and then take Math 2 again sometime during AP Calculus in 11th grade.



What is on that Literature test? I heard it was easy.
The Literature test is not “easy,” but it does require less knowledge of a specific body of content compared to the other Subject Tests. There are no specific texts that you are expected to have read, and you do not have to identify works or authors. You do need to be familiar with basic literary terminology. The Literature exam tests your ability to read and interpret poetry (50%) and prose (50%). It is less like an English test you might take in school and more like a harder version of the reading comprehension passages on the SAT. In fact, your SAT Critical Reading score provides a rough indication of your potential on the Literature exam.



I’m doing well in AP European History. Could I do well on the SAT Subject Test in World History?
Possibly, but keep in mind that questions specifically about Europe constitute only about 25% of the test. Questions specific to Asia, Africa, and the Americas equal 50% of the test, and questions that are global or comparative in scope make up the final 25%. Students who do well on this test have usually taken a World History or Western Civilization class. However, don’t be afraid to take a look at a practice test. The range of the test is so broad that a general understanding of the era and events is sufficient for many of the questions; encyclopedic knowledge of dates and facts is not expected.



Does it "look bad" for native speakers to take the Language test in their native language?
A college admissions officer once responded to this question as follows: “No, but it looks bad for native English speakers to do poorly on the SAT Verbal.” The point is that skill with a second language is perceived as valuable, regardless of how that language was learned. If you can produce a solid score on a Language Subject Test relative to your other choices, then you should do so.



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