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 of May and/or June. Subject Tests are required or expected by only about 20 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 a little over 20 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 will both consider 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 “will consider” 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 “considered” as “recommended.” 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.

Here is a table detailing the number of questions and a brief description of each test:

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.


  • 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.

  • Joy says:

    I’m a gr.12 student who are willing to take sat subject test this coming November.
    Is it allowed to take listening test with 2 other subjects in one day?
    For example, Chinese with listening + Math 2C + Biology

  • Janie says:

    Hello. Thank you so much for this useful information! So I am taking SAT chem and Math level 2. However, if I take other SAT subject tests during the year, do I have to report ALL the tests of ALL the dates that I have taken it? Can we choose which tests from a certain date that we can send? Or are all the dates that we take the tests have to be sent?

  • College questions says:

    My daughter got a 36 on the ACT and a 1570 on the SAT. Am I right in thinking she should only report the ACT? She also took 2 SAT subject tests: Literature (780) and Chemistry (740)
    I was thinking she should send the ACT and the 2 SAT subject tests… but is Chemistry too low? What are your thoughts? Thank you!

  • Michelle says:

    Hi Art,
    My son’s school has physics first curriculum, it’s an intro class in ninth grade (he is a junior now), and they recommend taking AP Physics after calculus which will be in 12th grade, at least that’s in my son’s case. My son is interested in UPenn and they prefer to see physics subject test scores for engineering. He will have math2 and chemistry subject test scores by the time he applies early decision but he won’t have physics. As he already has a very packed schedule, I don’t know if he should self study in order to take physics subject test next August. Do you think it will hurt his chance if he submits chemistry instead of physics? Should he self study? Thanks for your help.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t want to speak for the admissions committee. 🙂 UPenn’s preference for Physics is presumably because they have found it a good indicator of success in engineering. That’s certainly not to say that it is the only good indicator. The Physics Subject Test is algebra-based physics rather than calculus-based, so your son may already have a decent foundation. I would recommend that he take a practice test (a College Board exam, not a substitute) to help decide whether or not he is within striking distance of where he wants to be. Learning physics on one’s own is not an easy task for a busy junior. The bottom line is that a strong Chemistry score is better than a weak Physics score. UPenn allows Score Choice, so he can also take the Physics exam and choose to keep the results to himself.

  • AB says:

    Hi Art,
    What would be your advice for our son who is in senior year in one of the top high schools and targeting top echelon schools for pre-medical track.
    His weighted GPA: 4.4 (has been rising) unweighted: 3.8
    SAT: 1510 which puts him in the top 1%
    We expect strong endorsement from the school recommendation letters as he has been performing well both in science and humanities, has a lot of reasonable extracurricular credentials.
    Our concern is that he a bit overbooked his AP classes and with all the test occurring at the same time, only one of his APs has been 4 (US History).
    Also, the two SAT Subject tests he is planning to submit are good, but not stellar. Chemistry: 720, Math2: 740.
    Overall he appears to be in a good place to apply to the top 40 schools, but we are uneasy if this will cut it for the very top tier.
    So, if he finds the time between dealing with applications and maintaining good scores in senior year, strictly for Yale/Harvard/Stanford level colleges, would you advise him to retake one of the Subject Tests (Math2 appears to be a more viable candidate) to boost his score to 800 or very close?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      He faces a choice between SAT and Subject Tests. Both are solid, but for the YHS colleges, they are a bit below the mean of admitted applicants. He still has time to register for both October and November, but I know that could mean a lot of prep and testing. If choosing between the options, I would recommend SAT work as its more widely applicable to his full set of prospective colleges.

  • Raj says:

    Hi Art,
    I have registered for both the Math 1 subject test and Biology subject test and I was wondering if I could replace Biology with Math 2. Is it possible for me to take both the Math 1 and Math 2 subject tests on the same day?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      On test day you are allowed to take the Subject Tests that you want to take (with the special exception of listening exams). You can take Math 1 and Math 2 on the same date. Keep in mind that colleges will generally only want to see one of those scores — i.e. they do not satisfy a 2-test requirement.

  • R Robinson says:

    Hi, do colleges make exceptions ,like Harvard if you dont have a high SAT score but high GPA, my daughter has a 4.9 gpa. She has an interview this weekend from a local Harvard rep for admissions. She is taking 3 subject test this weekend also.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      There is no automatic trade-off between SATs and GPA, but Harvard does take a holistic approach and does not have an SAT cutoff. Most Harvard applicants have high GPAs, so it is difficult to differentiate oneself on that alone.

  • Sarah says:


    I registered for 3 subjects tests- Physics, Chemistry and Math Level 2. On the test day, however, I decided to do only one. The Test Center told me to postpone them online when I got back home. I did and was charged a change fee. However the SAT site states that there is no change fee?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The fee policies are not my area of expertise, but hopefully College Board’s customer service can help you. Perhaps the fact that you postponed them was viewed as a change of test date for which there is a fee.

  • BT says:

    I have taken 4 different SAT subject tests. I took Maths 2 and Chemistry recently and I received good scores. However I also took Literature and Latin a few years ago. I do not wish to submit these scores as they are poor. Am I required to submit them for schools which do not participate in SAT score choice? If I am, will the lower scores hinder my application if I am applying for engineering and have high scores in maths 2 and Chemistry.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Even schools that “do not recognize” Score Choice typically make an exception for Subject Tests. In cases where they don’t, they’ll usually have a policy of using only a student’s best scores. I would exercise Score Choice if you are concerned.

  • Louise says:

    Hi Art, I have a question about reporting sat subject scores. My daughter has a great sat score, gpa and she will have 9 APs. No one even mentioned subject tests until we saw they are ‘recommended’ for engineering at some schools she is applying to. She sat the chemistry and math 2 but she did AP Chem in sophomore and she is calc BC this yr so in both subjects it was a long time since she did this kind of work. Both were disastrous; math 690 and chem 610. She knows she could score 800 in both if she had time to study but she has a strenuous courseload, busy extracurricular life and is drowning in college apps/essays. She is planning to try again but for her Stanford RAED can she just not put the sat subjects in the self reporting part and then send what will hopefully be better scores when she gets the Nov results? Or self report her intention to sit them in Nov without putting the other scores in?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would recommend that she leave off her current Subject Test scores (so your last option). Stanford is now a “report if they are going to help” college, and I don’t think that her current scores will help. Hopefully she nails them in November.

  • MMC says:

    I have a question about reporting the SAT scores. I took the SAT Chemistry in June 2016 and the SAT regular test October 2016 without choosing the “free” reports. I did well enough and do not plan to retake them. I took SAT Math2 and Physics in June 2017 and did choose 2 UC and 2 other schools for the “free” reports. Do I need to pay to send in the SAT regular test scores to those 4 “free” schools? I did better in Physics than in Chemistry. Do I need to send in the Chemistry score to the schools, especially UCs? Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The “free” reports include any score that you have taken up to that date (including the current test, of course!). It does not include subsequent tests. So when you sent reports when you to the M2 and Physics in June, your Chemistry test and October 2016 SAT score were also sent. If you repeat any of the tests, you will need to resend scores (either as free or paid reports). The advantage of paid reports after you receive scores is Score Choice.

  • Dorthy says:

    Hi, Art
    My D is going to apply Upenn ED major in liberart arts or undecided, but she got very bad sat subject test in math2 670, her literature is 750 and sat 1540 (math 790, englisg 750), act 33. Will sending only one subject (literature) will put her on disadvantage situation? Should she still take risk to apply upenn as her ED choice? (subject test is not required but recommended in upenn)
    thanks a lot

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It boils down to submitting 2, 1, or 0 scores. I would probably opt out of 2 — her M2 will not help her, and she is not applying to a program where it would be expected. I don’t know enough about how Penn would view 1 score (or 0) to make a recommendation. I doubt that either choice would be a negative. Her ED choice is beyond my area of expertise. I will say that her SAT and ACT scores fall in Penn’s 25th-75th range for admitted students.

  • AS says:

    Hi Art,
    If I took the Biology E/M Subject Test more than once, can I submit a score from only one date or do I have to submit all my scores for that test?
    Thank you.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Except in a few cases (just stop being out-of-step, Georgetown!), you can just submit the dates you choose. Even if you submit all of them, most colleges will look at the highest score.

  • Tara says:

    Hi Art,
    My SAT score was 1520 (780 in Math and 740 in Reading and Writing). If I apply ED to Stanford, do you think I should send in my subject test scores of 780 in Math 2 and 700 in Literature? I am inclined to submit only the Math 2 score, or none at all, since the Literature score is rather low. (I am a straight A student.) Would it look bad if I submitted only one subject test score?
    Thank you.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Hopefully you’ve already made this decision, but I thought I would weigh in. I would go ahead and submit your Math 2 score. I don’t know of any bias that colleges have against 1 ST that they wouldn’t have against 0. Stanford has greatly weakened its consideration of Subject Test scores, so it won’t play a large role either way.

  • ANAND says:

    Hi ART, I am applying ED to UPENN business program and I have composite ACT 36 and I have good GPA and other credentials. But my SAT subject test score on Math 2 is only 720 and also My SAT History is in 720.( I took these tests later time period than my actual subject year). Since my SAT subject tests scores are not as great as other credentials, what would be better approach to get admitted in UPENN. Will it be not sending SAT score or it is still ok to send low SAT score (This should not give wrong prediction on the performance ). Thanks and your advice is highly regarded.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your Subject Test scores are not so weak that they should cause a problem. Given your ACT score, I might choose not to submit. They don’t seem to strengthen your portfolio.

  • Natalie says:

    I took only the ACT, but I also took a couple SAT subject tests last spring. Would you recommend I send my scores to UC’s, even if I wasn’t that happy with them? I don’t plan on retaking any subject tests.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      If you don’t think that your Subject Test scores tell a positive story, then I would not send them to the UC’s. No program requires them, and only some recommend them (and a recommendation can be ignored if compliance means sending low scores).

  • Shania says:

    Hi Art, I took the SAT in October and my reading part was above average (610) but my math scores are low (550) my target goal is a 1200 the schools I want to go to super score and I was wondering if I could just take a math subject test instead of the whole SAT over again. Will that work, will the count my good reading score and my math subject test? And if so should I take Math 1 and 2 or just 2?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      It does seem a little cruel to make someone retake the whole SAT just to raise a math score, but it’s the only way that College Board can ensure test fairness (otherwise it would be like you were running a 10k and everyone else was running a marathon). Because the Math Subject Tests and Math SAT are different, schools do not superscore across the exams, I’m sorry, but it looks like you’ll want to take the full SAT again.

  • JF says:

    Greetings Art,
    I am in a bit of a pickle. My ACT and SAT scores are quite good (33 & 1500), but I faltered on my Subject Tests for various reasons. They are as follows:
    World History: 610//Chemistry: 660//BiologyE: 710//MathII: 570.
    I especially distaste the MathII and World History scores for obvious reasons, and while my forecasted major has little relation to them (environmental science/studies), I sincerely DO NOT want to send those two scores to ANY college. They can only speak negatively, and I don’t need want some off tests to dictate my future. My first reach choice (Stanford University) is thankfully a Score-Choice college, but the UCs and many others ask me to report “all SAT scores.”
    I am unsure of the semantics of that statement. Does that mean all SAT scores, or all SAT + Subject Tests (since the latter is under the page of “SAT” on the College Board)? It is giving me considerable anxiety. What should I do? And if I sincerely must submit my Subject Tests, how badly do you think it would display me to the application readers?

    Thank you kindly,

    • Art Sawyer says:

      There is not universal agreement on this topic. I think it is fair to say that unless a college explicitly says that all SAT *and* Subject Tests are required, then a “no Score Choice” or “all SATs” policy simply means that all non-Subject Test SATs must be submitted. Unfortunately, College Board has muddled the matter by not properly distinguishing between the tests in its policies, and most colleges are used to simply referring to the “SAT” and view Subject Tests as something different. The UCs do not require Subject Tests, and I do not see their no Score Choice policy as a back-door requirement.

  • anoushka says:

    hello sir , in my first attempt of sat i got 510 in english and 650 in math where as in second attempt i got 610 in english and 590 in math so if i send both of my scores to university . will the university consider the best score of each subject?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      If you are referring to the SAT and its Reading/Writing and Math scores, then you can look to see if a college “superscores.” We maintain a list of superscoring policies at popular colleges. In more cases than not, colleges do look at your best scores. Policies are not always as cleaerly stated when it comes to Subject Tests, but in most cases, your best scores will be used.

  • R.G says:

    My daughter got same scores in both october and november sat exams in 2 subjects Chemistry and Maths eventhough she is confident that she did better in November. We feel getting the same score in both subjects in October and November score is unlikely. Should we go for score verification. We doubt whether they have uploaded october marks again for November also. Please advise

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Although it would be unusual to receive the exact same scores, it is far more unusual to have College Board mix up results. I would contact them to see if they can provide any additional insight (such as the raw scores) before you pay for score verification.

  • K says:

    If the colleges I’m applying to don’t explicitly require subject tests but I took them, do I have to send those scores along with the SAT I? For example, one of their websites say “You may submit SAT II scores if you believe they provide additional support for your application, but it is not a requirement for admission.”, so that would imply that I can choose not to send, right?

  • Mom of 3 says:

    HI Art – my daughter took ACT twice – 34 (36 Science 35 English 33 Reading 32 Math) 33(29 Science 36 English. 36 Reading 29 Math – 10 Writing). She is a national merit comment and received the following SAT subject test scores: Bio M: 800 Math 1: 740 Lit: 730. She is applying to a few Ivies and many schools right beneath. Would appreciate your advice on what to do with the Math 1 and Lit scores. Thank you so much.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Mom of 3,
      I would recommend that your daughter include her Math 1 and Lit scores. They are far from “there is a problem” scores, and they display a nice diversity.

  • Karen says:

    hi Art –
    looking at some ivies – son has 4.0 gpa, 35 ACT (taken 3 times) 1440 SAT (taken twice) but sat subject scores of 720 (USHistory); 610 (Physics) and 600 (math 2) – i think he’s just DONE with testing

    if SAT subject are optional, suggested, or add positively, which ones do we submit? also, if 2 are mandatory – take the two highest or since the lower two are in similar range send them all?

    thanks –

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I would recommend sending, where allowed, the 35 rather than the 1440. If Subject Tests are treated as a “plus factor,” then I would recommend including the USHistory. Many colleges will automatically take the highest Subject Test scores, but I don’t think there is any reason to include the third score unless the college requires that all scores be submitted.

  • Lily says:

    Hi Art,
    I am a senior and I am in the process of applying to schools, some as an econ major and others as a cs major. I have a couple reaches (Cornell, CMU, UC Berkeley) and matches (Purdue, Northeastern, RPI). My GPA is 3.8 u/w, ACT is 34C (36 English 36 Reading 32 Math 32 Science) and I have gotten 5’s on both APUSH and AP Calc AB, and I have many EC’s. My SAT subject scores are as follows: Math 2 – 730; Physics – 620; US History – 610; Korean – 780. Do you recommend that I send any of these scores? Most of my schools do not require SAT subject test scores to be sent, and I was wondering if any of them would add to my overall application. Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sorry if I’m late. Your Physics and US History scores don’t do justice to your ACT and AP scores. I would probably not send them. The Math 2 and Korean are fine, although colleges won’t put much weight on language Subject Tests unless you were studying the language in school.

  • Mom from CY says:

    Hi Art,

    My son is an international student with A-Levels in Chemistry (A), Physics (B), Mathematics (A) and Modern Greek (A). He has scored a 1360 SAT (610 Reading/Writing and 750 Math). He took three Subject Tests: Math I (760), Math II (800) and Chemistry (680). He has applied to science/math programs (but not engineering schools) in the UC system. We are thinking of only sending the Math II Subject Test, since his Chemistry A-Level is much stronger (he got a high A-score) than the SAT Subject Test. But what about the ‘Report all scores’ policy for UCs? What would you recommend?

  • Lauren says:

    Dear Mr. Sawyer:

    Thank you for offering your recommendations! My daughter has a 1440 SAT (770 Verbal; 670 Math); AP Language (5), AP USHistory (4), French (4). We are trying to figure out what we should do with regard to her SAT IIs. She is applying to multiple schools that “recommend but do not require) SATIIs” (Havard, Brown, Duke, Northwestern, Penn, Yale). Her Literature score is 770 but her History score is 680. Her college counselor told her that “unless a score is above 700, don’t send,” and that “it won’t look weird if you only send one subject matter test.” On the other hand, it does seem odd to us to send just one. Do you have thoughts on this scenario? Thank you very much.

  • KEMI says:

    My D scored very well on the ACT . However the Sat Subject Test scores are as follows: 670 in Maths 2 and 660 in Physics
    He will be majoring in Electrical/ Computer Engineering. Is it compulsory that he report his Sat Subject Test scores to Rice?
    Will he be seen as withholding information if he doesn’t?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Rice does not require Subject Tests and states that “Applicants who do not take the SAT Subject Tests will not be disadvantaged in the review process.” I would not bother submitting them.

  • Sarah says:

    Hi Art,
    I am a senior looking to apply regular decision to ivy leagues where two subject tests are “recommended but not required”. I have a 34 AC and a 4.0 (my school does not give weighted gpas). I have a 770 on my Lit subject test and a 690 on my Bio M (I got a 4 on APBio but 5s on all other APs). Would it be worse to submit both scores and show the 690, or just to submit 770 lit and not fulfill their “recommendation” of two subject tests? Thank you in advance!

  • Karolina says:

    Hi Art,

    I am a high school senior applying to the top liberal arts colleges, many of whom do not require scores at all, but I am planning on sending in my 1370 SAT score because I have been told it will not raise red flags in my application. In 10th grade, I took the American History subject test and got a 630. Should I send this score in with my other one as well? Will it raise eyebrows or will they simply check it off as okay, and focus on the other things they say they care more about in my application (like personal essays and activities)?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Your U.S. History score is far enough below your SAT scores that I don’t think it will benefit you and could be a negative. I would submit only your 1370.

  • Helen says:

    Hi, I recently took the Bio Subject Test again to see if I could get a better score. I did, but it was still not the score I wanted, is it worth it for me to take the test a third time?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      That’s one that I can better answer through a set of questions. I will say that Score Choice means that you will be able to use your best performance.

      Do you have good reason to think that you will improve? By a significant amount (30-50 points)?
      Do you have the time and desire to do further preparation?
      Will hitting your target score be important? For example, will it improve your testing portfolio? Do the schools are programs to which you are applying require Subject Tests? Do you have other ST scores that can take the place of Bio?

      I’m not generally a fan of taking a Subject Test three times, but I’m not the one taking the test or getting ready for it. If you’re just frustrated that you haven’t done better, it may be best to pass. If you think it can impact your admission chances and you are up for it, then you have my encouragement!

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