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Appendix: What’s a Good Subject Test Score

By February 1, 2016SAT Subject Tests

The What’s a Good Subject Test Score post deals with the relationship between old SAT scores and Subject Test scores. Most students now take the new PSAT, new SAT, or the ACT. In order to work backward to old SAT scores, a concordance table must be used. The concordance table below allows students to take their ACT or new SAT scores (new PSAT and new SAT scores are interchangeable) and find the comparable old SAT score. In most cases, this translation makes only a small difference (10–40 points). The principle that the pool of test takers is a good predictor of Subject Test scores still holds true.

The ACT concordance table shows that an ACT Composite of 30 is comparable to an average old SAT section score of about 660 (total score of 1990). Based on the relationship observed between Subject Test scores and old SAT scores, we can expect that students scoring an ACT Composite of 30 will have a mean U.S. History score of approximately 650–680. This does not predict the score for an individual student, but it does provide a way of comparing Subject Test scores or assessing where a student stands versus comparable ACT scorers.

The concordance table shows that a total new SAT score of 1360 is comparable to an average old SAT section score of 640 (total score of 1920). Based on the relationship observed, we can expect that students with a 1360 new SAT score will have a mean U.S. History score of approximately 630–650. This does not predict the score for an individual student, but it does provide a way of comparing Subject Test scores or assessing where a student stands versus comparable new SAT scorers.

Evidence of the relationship between SAT scores and Subject Test scores

The table below shows the mean old SAT scores (the only scores College Board has released to date) earned by the students taking a particular Subject Test. The data shows that there is a roughly linear relationship between average old SAT score and mean Subject Test score. An obvious outlier is World History, where Subject Test results lag SAT scores.

Subject Test and SAT Means (2015)

Subject TestSubject Test
Mean
SAT CRSAT MAverage
CR and M
Literature618639623631
U.S. History645642647645
World History618650655653
Math Level 1619577628603
Math Level 2690629693661
Biology-E625612642627
Biology-M652621661641
Chemistry666630695663
Physics667609701655

In order to show that the linear relationship holds for pools of students with varying scores, the changes in scores between 2010 and 2015 were calculated and plotted. Over that period, the pool of test takers shrank, and the mean SAT scores and mean Subject Test scores increased in an expected pattern. Once more, World History is an outlier.

Subject Test and SAT Mean Changes (2010-2015)

Subject TestSubject Test
Mean Chg
SAT CR
Chg
SAT M
Chg
Average
CR and M
Chg
Literature38413639
U.S. History44373838
World History13283230
Math Level 114-51010
Math Level 241293535
Biology-E24142520
Biology-M143128
Chemistry22151917
Physics9-252

Old SAT scores—or new SAT or ACT scores that have been concorded—provide a rule of thumb for estimating Subject Test scores for a group of students. This comparison is important because the population of students taking the tests varies widely.

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

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