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What’s a Good SAT Subject Test Score?

By April 2, 2019 April 16th, 2019 SAT Subject Tests

2016_march_29

Judging performance on Subject Tests can be confusing for students. While most colleges release SAT and ACT score data, almost none regularly provide Subject Test scores. By combining data from College Board with current and historical data from colleges, Compass has come up with advice on how parents and students can assess Subject Test results and make effective testing decisions.

If a college requires Subject Tests, then your decision is made for you. Most colleges, though, have changed their Subject Test policies to “recommend” or “consider.” In these cases, you need to evaluate how Subject Tests add or detract from your testing portfolio.

Compare your scores to your SAT or ACT scores.
The simplest rule of thumb is to shoot for Subject Test scores that match or better your SAT section scores. If, for example, you scored a 710 ERW / 700 Math, then Subject Test scores above 700 should improve your testing portfolio. When assessing your Math Level 1 or Math Level 2 score, it’s best to compare it to your SAT Math score. If you achieved a 750 SAT Math score, a 700 Math 2 score is unlikely to do you any favors. If you took the ACT, you can use a concordance to help with the comparison.

Don’t get hung up on percentiles.
Unfortunately, students are often drawn to percentiles when judging Subject Test performance, and percentiles happen to be extremely flawed measures. The pool of students choosing Subject Tests is small and skews toward high scorers. The pool of test takers also varies dramatically across the different subjects.

Subject Test percentiles are not comparable to SAT percentiles.
Students accustomed to achieving very high percentile ranks can be deflated by Subject Test percentiles, even when they shouldn’t be. For example, a student scoring a 1500 on the SAT would be in the 99th percentile. She might be disappointed, then, to find out that her 750 Chemistry score is 72nd percentile. In fact, she shouldn’t be surprised. The Chemistry test is taken by other students like her — very good testers who are particularly good at Chemistry. Her 750 is not a drag on her testing portfolio, and she should submit it.

Subject Test percentiles are not comparable across subjects.
A 680 in Literature and 770 in Math 2 are both reported as 67th percentile, but they are not equivalent. The simplest way of looking at the scores also happens to be the most accurate — the Math 2 score is 90 points higher and is the better score. The pool of students taking the Math 2 exam is more exclusive than that of those taking Literature. The average SAT Math score among Math 2 takers is 720. The average SAT section score for Literature students is approximately 660. The difference in Subject Test scores does not indicate that one test is easier or harder than the other; it is more of a reflection of the skill and preparation of the test takers.

Compare your scores to the 25th-75th percentile ranks of SAT scores at your target schools.
“Good scores” only have meaning in the context of college choice. At schools where most applicants submit scores, Subject Test scores will roughly align with SAT scores. If Alma Mater College’s 25th-75th percentile range of SAT scores is 680-760 ERW and 680-760 Math, then its Subject Tests scores will not be far off.

Given the testing portfolio below, what should the applicant to Alma Mater College do?

His Subject Test scores are in line with his SAT scores, so that box is checked. However, his scores are at the low end of the 25th-75th range. Test scores, in other words, are not his strength relative to other applicants. Providing Subject Test results may actually hurt him by doubling down on a weak part of his application. He might be applying to other colleges, though, where the exact opposite is true. His SAT and Subject Test scores might put him in the upper range of applicants, and submitting all of his scores would be helpful. Context matters, so consider the college and the program to which you are applying.

It’s perfectly natural to have one of your scores be higher than the other.
Not every score can be your highest. When UCLA used to report its applicant and enrollee Subject Test scores, it provided insight into how students’ scores matched up. On average, a student’s best score was 60 points higher than the second best.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to display a strength just because Subject Tests are not required.
It makes sense that as fewer colleges require Subject Tests fewer students take the exams. But some students are missing out on an opportunity to highlight their strengths. Compared to just seven years ago, 50% fewer students achieve a 750-800 in Literature and U.S. History. If performance in literature and history were really on the decline, we would have seen this in AP scores. The more likely explanation is that many students have decided to pass up the Subject Test opportunity.

Think about skipping the exams if you are not within striking range of a 700.
None of the 15 U.S. colleges requiring or recommending Subject Tests has average SAT scores below 700 on either the ERW or Math sections. Two-thirds of the schools have average Math scores above 750! Given this landscape, Subject Test scores below 700 rarely add to a student’s testing portfolio.

Of the more than 500,000 Subject Tests taken last year, over 200,000 resulted in scores at or above 700. Approximately 135,000 of those were at 750 or above. At highly competitive institutions, in other words, you need very strong Subject Test scores to positively distinguish yourself. While there are situations where a lower score might be useful, they are limited. Approximately 135,000 scores last year were 600 or below. Students taking those tests would likely have been better served focusing on their SAT and ACT scores.

Your endpoint is not the same as your starting point.
As with any college admission test, preparation can raise scores. Just because an initial practice test or a result from an earlier year is low doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel. You should, however, be realistic about your goals.

Use Score Choice except where absolutely prohibited.
In virtually all cases, colleges will use your best two scores and will take your better score if you repeat a subject. Score Choice gives you even more control, since you can release only the scores you want to reveal. At the time of this writing, Compass believes that Georgetown is the only college that does not allow Score Choice for Subject Tests. It’s also the only college that recommends 3 Subject Tests.

Are 200-800 scores identical to the 200-800 scores on the SAT?
Not really, but it can be a convenient shorthand. When Subject Tests — they’ve been called Achievement Tests and SAT IIs over the years — were created, the SAT scores of test takers were used to help calibrate the scales appropriately. What our research has shown is that, with the exception of foreign language exams, the old SAT scores of test takers were closely matched with Subject Test scores. [See our archived post for more detail.] Students taking Chemistry, for example, achieved an average score of 666. Those same students have an average section score of 663 on the old SAT.

This relationship was useful to College Board in setting the scales of tests such as Math Level 1 and Math Level 2. Students taking both the old SAT and the Math 1 Subject Test saw similar results on the two exams. They averaged 628 on the old SAT Math section and 619 on the Subject Test. While more difficult than Math 1 and taken by a more skilled pool of students, Math 2 results showed the same alignment. Students averaged a 693 on the Subject Test and 690 on the old SAT Math section.

Then things got weird. The new SAT changed many of the rules by redefining the 200-800 scale, eliminating the guessing penalty, and even changing how percentile ranks were calculated. The correlation between SAT and Subject Test scores still holds, it’s just that we need to think of new SAT scores as “inflated.” In the typical 600-800 range of Subject Test takers, a section score on the new SAT went up about 30 points versus the old SAT. The Math 2 students who averaged 690 on the old SAT now average 720 on the new SAT.

Below is a chart of the relationship between average SAT section scores and average Subject Test scores. The points don’t follow the line exactly, but most Subject Test scores are 20-40 points below the average test takers’ comparable SAT scores.

World History is a significant outlier. The test material doesn’t align neatly with high school coursework, and it is challenging to achieve a high score. Foreign language tests are not included here because the SAT score alone is a poor predictor. Some tests, such as Chinese and Korean, are taken primarily by native speakers. Others, such as French and Spanish, are taken by a mix of native speakers and those learning the languages in high school.

If Subject Test scores are 20-40 points lower, on average, than SAT scores, why does Compass recommend test takers try to at least reach their SAT scores?
Subject Test takers average 2.5 exams during their high school careers. Many high-scoring students take three or four exams. Since most colleges only ask for two Subject Tests, and since students will submit their best two, average reported scores are higher than the average of all received scores. Low scores can be hidden through the power of Score Choice. This leads to the advice that Subject Test scores above your SAT scores are far more likely to improve your testing portfolio than those below.

The tables below provide a summary of current Subject Test data. The mean Subject Test scores are compared to the average SAT section score of test takers. In the case of the Math Level 1 and Level 2 exams, the SAT Math score is the better proxy. The number of test takers is shown along with the number of students scoring at or below 600, at or above 700, and at or above 750. These figures give context to how many students already perform well on these exams and how many might consider taking a pass.

SubjectSubject Test
Mean
Relevant
SAT Score
Test Takers<=600>=700>=750
Literature61866344,10918,96611,0273,969
U.S. History64567552,99516,95819,0789,009
World History61868314,0185,8874,0652,102
Math Level 161965145,74520,58511,8933,659
Math Level 2690721141,95128,39078,07356,780
Biology-E62565929,64812,1557,7083,557
Biology-M65267238,09211,42714,8557,999
Chemistry66669268,87918,59731,68419,286
Physics66768556,95615,37826,76917,086
Chinese w/Listening759N/A4,1052053,6123,201
French636N/A5,8292,5062,0401,340
French w/Listening666N/A1,037290487352
German644N/A634272234152
German w/Listening636N/A36515612462
Modern Hebrew608N/A31114611590
Italian695N/A455122232163
Japanese w/Listening694N/A967174647483
Korean w/Listening768N/A1,761701,5671,391
Latin613N/A2,242964739403
Spanish651N/A16,8445,3906,7373,874
Spanish w/Listening665N/A1,757474790456

 

 

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.

133 Comments

  • Avatar stajirovka says:

    Thank you for usefull article. Also I have found more information about SAT here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAT_Subject_Tests

  • Avatar Rita Tepper says:

    Art,
    What advise would you give to a student applying to Harvard with the following test profile:
    SAT( taken only once March 2016) EBRW 790, Math 760 , Total 1550
    SAT Subject Tests Bio M (taken June 2014 after 9th grade) 740 American History (May 2016 ) 760 and Math 2 (taken June 2016) 720
    Would you send the Math 2 ?
    Student is interested in Cognitive Science

  • Avatar jf says:

    ACT super score of 35 (35, 35, 35, 33)…should I submit to highly selective but optional schools subject test scores of: Math 2 -790, US History – 720, Spanish Language (w/o Listening) – 710?

    Thanks from a Compass Student

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      jf,
      At highly selective schools where Subject Tests are simply “considered,” then I might let your ACT scores do the talking. While excellent, the scores will not necessarily help you stand out. I do think that you should submit them to schools that “recommend” Subject Tests. A number of highly selective schools in that camp expect to see Subject Tests except in extenuating circumstances.

  • Avatar bafr says:

    ACT score = 36, Math 2 subject test = 800; US History subject test = 800; Chemistry subject test = 770. Applying to highly selective schools, would you recommend just sending the 2 top scores? I am writing in my applications that one of my possible majors (also History and Philosophy) is Chemistry. Will schools expect to see a Chemistry subject test if I indicate an interest in Chemistry major?
    Thanks for your advice

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Bafr,
      You should be very proud of all of your scores. Phenomenal job. I would recommend including Chemistry.
      1) 770 is an excellent score. Just because something falls short of 800 does not mean it drags you down.
      2) I think breadth can be an excellent way of demonstrating your qualifications — that’s why Subject Tests exist.
      3) [My weakest point.] If you are an admission officer looking at a potential Chemistry major, are you happier to see a student with a 770 or one who didn’t bother to submit (or possibly even take) the Chemistry test?

  • Avatar Ramesh says:

    Hi Art
    My son has a 36 in ACT (36 in Math and 36 in Science) and a 2330 in SAT including a 800 in Math section. He has a 800 in Chem subject test, 780 in Math II (Took in Freshman year) and recently scored a 760 in Physics subject test. He is planning to apply to Cal and MIT as well as few other colleges for engineering. He is worried about submitting his Physics score, and in addition most of these schools only need two Subject tests. Will Physics hurt him or help him? Should we also submit Physics or just submit Chem and Math II? Thank you for your advise?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ramesh,
      What excellent scores! It’s hard to think of a 760 as being a weak score, but it is true that a number of applicants to the very top engineering programs will have even higher Physics scores. The key, though, is that this is his third subject. Colleges generally view subjects after the first two as “plus factors.” I think the fact that he took Physics and did so well would be a valuable addition to his testing portfolio.

  • Avatar Chris says:

    Hi Art,

    Thank you for your article. I’ve just received scores for my January subject tests but am unsure which to send in. What would you advise a student applying to Harvard/Princeton with the following test profile:
    New SAT (submitted): 1520, EBRW 740, Math 780 Essay: 18/24

    Subject Tests:
    Taken Jan 2017: Math 2 750, Biology E 660
    Taken October 2016: Literature 660, French 630 (not a native speaker)

    I think I will send in my Math 2, but which of the other three do you think would most aid my application?
    For some context: I am a UK applicant, Afro-Caribbean heritage, interested in Philosophy/Economics

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Chris,
      It’s really a toss-up on Biology and Literature (I wouldn’t worry about French). I’d like to at least suggest repeating one or both. 660’s would be on the low side of Subject Test scores at H/P. You’d only need to submit your highest scores.

  • Avatar Isabella K says:

    Hi!
    I recently received my SAT Subject test scores for the U.S. History Subject Test that I took in May. I received a 720. While I am not necessarily upset with this score, I was expecting to my score to be a little bit higher. Could you give some perspective on how “good” this score is? I’m in the 76th percentile, so I know I’m above the average score on the U.S. History test. Also, how much of a positive addition will this score be if I choose to include it in my applications this fall for colleges?
    Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Isabella,
      Percentiles are a tricky way to assess a Subject Test score, so you are right to be inquisitive. I like to think about how your score stacks up against your other scores. At highly competitive colleges, Subject Test scores, on average, are higher than old SAT scores. I should emphasize the “old” part. New SAT scores are higher than old SAT scores, so we can loosely say that SAT scores and Subject Test scores will be about the same at top colleges. If your SAT scores are in the 650-740 range (or lower), then your U.S. History exam certainly won’t hurt you. If you are scoring in the 1500 range on your SAT, then your U.S. History exam probably doesn’t improve your testing portfolio. In that case, I might suggest that you send it only to colleges requiring Subject Tests.

  • Avatar Alice Wang says:

    Hi,
    I got my son’s SAT World History score 750 that is in 87% today. His math is 800 and physics is 780. If he applies for Stanford, do you think we shall send top two subjects or we can send all three of them?

    Thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Alice,
      I would recommend sending all three. It’s understandable that a student’s third best score is less than his best, and there is no reason to hide from a 750. It shows an excellent performance in a non-STEM area to go with his Math and Physics results.

  • Avatar Pacey says:

    Should one retake an SAT Chem Score of 700 and a SAT score of 1440?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Pacey,
      Your 700 Chemistry is a good score and matches with your 1440. I would recommend that you consider a few things:
      1) Will a higher score help you? This depends on where you are applying and also on what sort of gain you can expect. At a 700, there is still room for improvement.
      2) Do you think you can achieve a higher score? Based on your preparation and practice tests, was the 700 much lower than expected. Even more important, are you in a position to do better? Presumably you are not taking a chemistry class over the summer, so it will mean studying on your own or with a tutor.
      3) Does repeating work with your schedule. Trying to raise a good score is different than trying to raise a weak score. Don’t force it. If it is going to interfere with your SAT plans or classes or applications, you probably shouldn’t force it.
      4) Do you want to repeat. You have a good score. Are you really interested enough in raising it to put in the work and deal with the stress of another test day.

      Good luck with whichever decision you make!

      • Avatar Pacey says:

        Thank you for replying.
        1) A higher score will definitely help me and keep my higher options open. At the moment, my main goal is to get into the Honors engineering programs for UT Austin and Texas A and M.
        2) It was much lower than expected. And you do bring up a good point about improving my score whatsoever, considering that I am not taking a chemistry class.
        3) Repeating works. Should I retake the SAT score of 1440?
        4) I’m conflicted about whether I should retake both of these scores, as I believe a higher score is better, but I don’t know if I can achieve that higher score.
        Thanks again.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Pacey,
          I can’t speak to the competitiveness of the UT and A&M engineering programs. Subject Test scores are completely optional and are unlikely to receive much weight. If you were to repeat a test — and I’m not saying that you must — I would recommend the SAT. Students often improve with time and practice, whereas the Chemistry test poses an additional obstacle. I do think you should submit your score.

  • Avatar Yolanda says:

    Hi, I recently took two SAT subject tests in May of this year. On the Bio M test, I got a 660, and on Math 2, I got a 630. I know that these scores aren’t that high, but are they enough for a UC such as LA? I’m all debating if I should retake them or not because I don’t know if I can do better if I do retake them. What do you think i should do?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Yolanda,
      When the UCs stopped requiring Subject Tests, they also stopped reporting scores for applicants and admits. We know from prior experience that scores were roughly in line with SAT scores. The average SAT scores for UCLA are likely to be 700-720 in EBRW and Math. Admissions rates drop off quickly for students in the 600’s. I would consider retaking the exams (at least M2) or choosing not to send the Subject Tests to the UCs. As it stands, they do not help your testing portfolio.

  • Avatar Vasu says:

    Hello Art, I have a score of 1540 on my SAT 1 (750 – EBRW and 790 – Math) with a GPA of 3.92 on a rigorous curriculum with 4 APs in Sophomore year and 4 APs in Junior year. I got four ‘5’s and three ‘4’s as my AP scores. However, my SAT II subject test scores are less than optimal with 720 in Math2, 730 in US History and 730 in Chemistry. I am planning to apply REA to Princeton this coming fall. Should I retake my Math subject test and/or US History? I am planning to major in Econ with minor in Language Studies.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      The answer that throws things back in your court is that retaking one or two ST’s can provide a boost to your testing profile, but not so large of one that they distract you from other things. I think you are at the cusp of where I would recommend a retake. You should retake the ones you are most likely to improve. For example, you shouldn’t feel pressure to do better in US History just because you plan on being a Econ major. A killer Chem score would be just as effective.

  • Avatar Sung says:

    Hi Art,
    My daughter is applying to Rice which requires no Subject Test scores if you submit ACT, but two with SAT. She will be submitting her ACT with a composite of 36 (E36,M35,R36,S36, Writing8). She took SAT Subject Tests once and got MATH 2 (770), Bio-M (790) and US History(750). Should she submit her Subject scores? Will they help her application or distract from her 36? Thank you for all your great work!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sung,
      I think your daughter’s scores supplement — rather than distract from — your daughter’s 36. If she is applying as a prospective STEM student, the Math 2 and Bio would be particularly relevant. Many of the ST-optional-with-ACT policies are vestiges from a time when students tended to take one test or the other and many ACT students ignored College Board exams entirely.

  • Avatar Minnesota dad says:

    My son has a 36C on ACT (single sitting). SAT II subject test scores are 800 (US History) and 750 (literature).

    Is there any advantage in taking more subject tests when target schools recommend only two? If he can score 750-800 on math II, would it be better to have third test when applying to selective schools (ivies and equivalents)? Or does that become overkill?

    I do see kids with multiple subject test 800s. Those impress me, but I am not sure if they impress admissions officers. Worth taking a third test or should we move on? My son is a senior (likely major in social sciences) so studying for the test would take away time from applications.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      MN dad,
      Additional Subject Tests can improve a student’s testing portfolio. There is certainly a diminishing return, but the tests can still provide insight. For example, Math 2 results can display your son’s math skills better than can the ACT alone. You and your son will have to decide whether or not investing in another day of testing is worth the small potential gain. If he is considering Georgetown, keep in mind that they strongly recommend 3 Subject Tests!

      • Avatar norm says:

        Art,
        Thanks for all the great information. My daughter has a 34 ACT (single sitting) and her subject matter tests are US Hist (710), Chem (740) and Math II (740). She is applying to schools that recommend/require 2 or 3 subject matter tests (Penn, Georgetown, etc.) but some others (Georgia Tech, Rice) make them optional. She wants to major in chemistry. Any concerns about submitting all three of the subject matter tests even at those places where it appears truly optional?

        RI dad

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Norm,
          No concerns. If really pressed, I might not bother sending the US History. I don’t think it would hurt her, but it’s not going to be much of a positive, either. Rice is a good example of how colleges send mixed signals on Subject Tests. Until recently, it required Subject Tests. But it realizes that the exams are an obstacle for some students and doesn’t want that to prevent great students from applying. In other words, “we want you to apply even if you don’t have Subject Tests, but we’d love it if you did have Subject Tests, but we sort of promise not to hold it against you if you don’t.” When faced with these policies, the best decision is full disclosure unless scores are weak.

  • Avatar Vasu says:

    Hello Art,
    The Subject Test scores were released this morning and I wanted to thank you for your advice!. My original question that you had replied earlier is pasted below for reference again. I retook Math II following your recommendation and got a 790 this time. My question now is, should I subject all three subject test scores or only submit Math II and U.S History? Please let me know when you get a chance.
    Math Level II – 790 US History – 730 Chemistry – 730

    Thanks, Vasu
    =======
    I have a score of 1540 on my SAT 1 (750 – EBRW and 790 – Math) with a GPA of 3.92 on a rigorous curriculum with 4 APs in Sophomore year and 4 APs in Junior year. I got four ‘5’s and three ‘4’s as my AP scores. However, my SAT II subject test scores are less than optimal with 720 in Math2, 730 in US History and 730 in Chemistry. I am planning to apply SCEA to Princeton this coming fall. Should I retake my Math subject test and/or US History? I am planning to major in Econ with minor in Language Studies.

  • Avatar mom in NJ says:

    Hi Art,

    My son has a 35 on his ACT (36 math, 35 science). He got an 800 on his Math 2 subject test and a 740 on his physics subject test. Should he send the physics score to places like Carnegie Mellon and Cornell?

    Thank you very much!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      NJ Mom,
      Yes, send it. Colleges typically view Subject Test scores “supportively” or as “plus factors.” A 740 is not a score your son needs to hide. The percentiles on the Physics exam can make it seem as if any score less than 800 is a failure, but that’s more about the self-selection of the testing pool than anything else.

  • Avatar Devi says:

    My son is in Sophomore now and got 720 in Biology E subject test. He is going to try for BS DO dual program. Most of the schools are asking for two or three subject test. He is planning to take Math 2, Chem and US History Subject test as well in Junior. He is wondering whether he has to retake Biology E test again or focus on other test as taking it again will reduce his time for other tests.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Devi,
      Dual programs are one of the last strongholds of Subject Tests because they are so competitive and colleges want to make sure that students are comfortable with the math and science that will be required. I don’t think that he *has* to repeat Bio, but it would be good if he could apply with really strong M2, Bio, and Chem scores. Since he is just a sophomore, he has plenty of opportunities to retake the test. He may want to prep and re-take while the information is fresh. He’ll have Score Choice available, so only his best scores will matter.

  • Hi Art,
    My daughter would like to apply for Princeton University early admission. Her current GPA is 3.8 UW; will complete 9 AP courses by the end of her senior year and many Extra-curriculum, since 9th grade. She received on SAT subject test – Chem 740 and Math 1 650. She has a 34 ACT composite score. She is also taking college courses (MOWR) and currently has received A’s in the courses. We are trying to complete an holistic profile for IVY league schools due to her GPA not being 4.0 UW. I am aware, as a student she will not be in the upper end of applicable students. My questions is would it help or hurt her to send the subject test scores?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      GA Mother,
      I would submit her Chemistry score but not the Math 1 score. The latter is below what the most elite schools want to see and doesn’t improve her “testing portfolio.”

  • Avatar Farhad says:

    Hello Art,
    My daughter has 35C in ACT(superscore), Writing 9 and SAT II 760 (US History) and 740 (Literature). Her target schools are all 4-year Liberal Arts college, Claremont colleges on West coast and Amhert/Williams/Swarthmore/Haverford/Wellesley on east coast. We are hoping these scores along with her high GPA and range of extra curricular actitivity portfolio, good essays, be good enough to make her competitive? She plans to study either History or English. Any comment on her chances to get into one of these colleges?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Farhad,
      I’m only qualified to talk about her test scores, and her ACT and Subject Test scores are in line with what those schools will want to see. Best of luck to your daughter!

  • Avatar Cali Mom says:

    Hi Art,

    It’s so nice of you to respond to all of these questions!

    My son is applying to highly selective schools that all consider SAT subject tests optional (one school says recommended). He has a 34 composite ACT, a 1520 SAT, with a 750 on his Math 2 and a 700 on his Biology M. What are your recommendations concerning submitting the subject tests?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Cali Mom,
      Subject Test scores near or above an SAT section (we’ll call it 760 from your son’s SAT score) can generally increase the strength of a student’s testing portfolio. Your son’s Bio score is borderline for the top colleges. I might opt to not submit Subject Tests to the “optionals.” Some “recommended” colleges mean “we recommend, but we really, really want them.” Harvard and Princeton fall in this camp, for example. I would submit them in those limited circumstances.

  • Avatar Ali says:

    My son has a 35 ACT, 780 math ii and 620 physics. If applying Carnegie, should he retake physics? Thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ali,
      He is best off retaking Physics or finding another subject where his score will be more inline with his ACT and Math 2 scores (at least 700+). If he is applying to the College of Engineering, Physics is his best choice.

  • Avatar TX Dad says:

    Art,

    My son has 1400 SAT (730 Math + 670 EBRW), Math 2 is 750, Physics is 670 and Chemistry is 690. The rest of his package is exceptionally strong so he is keen to take a shot at the Ivies including Harvard and Penn. Would it be advisable for him to report his subject SAT scores and if so which ones?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      TX Dad,
      The question I ask is “Will these test results help or hurt a student’s testing portfolio? Or will they not matter?”

      Each of the elite schools is a little different. Harvard, for example, has “an expectation” of Subject Tests although it is not a hard requirement. I would recommend sending his Math 2 and Chem. Penn’s recommendation is a bit looser. Neither of his ST’s is so strong that it will dramatically strengthen his application, but I think that they are still good enough to send. I’d leave off Physics because no school — except Georgetown — expects 3 tests, and the 670 won’t help him. Overall his testing portfolio puts him toward the lower quartile of candidates, but scores are only one component. Harvard doesn’t release much in the way of stats, but Yale has posted some class of 2017 admission data that has new SAT scores for comparison.

  • Avatar Susan says:

    I have a question completely unrelated to college admissions. My son is at a top prep school and would like to show that he has sufficiently mastered freshman biology. He took the SAT II biology without prepping towards the end of his 9th grade honors biology course and scored a 650. Do you believe this score would show that he knows the material enough to move onto chemistry or does it show that he needs to retake freshman biology? I appreciate your input.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Susan,
      I don’t feel qualified enough to answer this. Based on what I commonly see from students taking the Bio Subject Test after 9th grade Bio is that a 650 is a good score. I would imagine that your son’s school, though, is much more concerned about his grade in the class.

  • Avatar Chris says:

    Finally, in-depth info about the Subject tests, this has been so helpful! Would like to get your opinion about USC engineering. SAT I score is 1540; Math II is 740 and Physics is 650. Would you send all? Thanks again for the great info.

  • Avatar Chris says:

    Thank you again!

  • Avatar chris says:

    Hi Art, When the UCs say that they want all of your SAT scores, are they talking solely about the SAT I or does it include the Subject tests? Chris

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      They are solely referring to the SAT, not Subject Tests. Unfortunately, there is no College Board option to state this policy, so when submitting scores, students get the scary message that the school does not recognize Score Choice. Ignore the scary message!

  • Avatar Concerned says:

    Hello Art,
    I am a senior applying for colleges this fall. When I was submitting SAT scores to colleges from College Board, I did not see the option to send certain scores so accidentally ended up sending ALL of my scores, including subject tests, which I did not want to send because I did rather poorly on them.
    I scored a 1490 on the SAT (720 Reading&Writing and 770 Math) and 690 on Math 2 Subject Test and 690 on Literature Subject Test and 640 on World History Subject Test. I submitted these scores to USC and Boston University. Again, I did not mean to send my subject test scores because they are bad in comparison to my SAT score, but since they have sent and I cannot do anything about it, do you think they will significantly hurt my chances? Do you think the 1490 is good enough for them to ignore my poor subject test scores? Thank you.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Concerned,
      If you just sent your scores in the last couple of days, you might try calling College Board to see if you can halt them. The only reason this *might* be possible is that scores are not zapped off to a college when you hit Send. Instead, College Board does regular uploads.

      I don’t think it’s much of a concern. Those are not Subject Test scores that are going to hurt you (and most folks have a weak third Subject Test that is going to be ignored). No, they won’t boost your testing portfolio, but they are not that far out of line where they would damage it either. See what you can do with College Board and then let go of the worry either way!

  • Avatar Senior says:

    Hello Art,

    With an ACT composite 35 (35 in Math), 5 in the AP Calc AB exam, 800 in Bio – M SAT and 790 in Math II SAT (with Bs and B+s in math classes in an advanced college prep program), what would your advice be on whether I should submit the Math II SAT to selective schools? Does it help or detract?

    Thank you.

  • Avatar HC says:

    Hi,

    I am applying to Princeton, and they recommend the submission of two subject tests. Paying for them was not an issue. I take the IB curriculum and have strong scores. However, the IB curriculum and AP curriculum differ in several ways that were evident on the subject tests (which appear to favor the AP one). I got a 690 in math 2 and a 690 in physics. Would you recommend submitting these scores, or is it best to stick to just submitting the ACT (33)?

    Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      HC,
      There is not a definitive answer. In general, ST scores that are lower than SAT section scores (or ACT equivalents in your case) do not help a student’s testing portfolio. Princeton has weakened its recommendation in recent years, so I would probably recommend against submission.

  • Avatar RA says:

    Hi Art,

    I have a student applying to CMC ED with a superscore 32 on the ACT. Student is applying to Psychology for a major. She took the Bio subject test in freshman year (unclear on which one) and got a 650. Should she not report that?

  • Avatar Aria says:

    I’ve seen a lot of SAT comparison but wondering about ACT comparison to subject tests. For my 2 EA school choices-one says they will consider Subject tests and the other says subject tests are not required. With a 32 composite ACT score (30 math section) should I send my 760 math 2 and 710 physics and 700 us history-one, two or none? Thanks very much.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Aria,
      My rule of thumb is that Subject Test scores should be inline with (not necessarily equal to) SAT scores. We just have to extend that by converting ACT scores. Your 32 concord with about a 1460 (or about 730 on each section). I think your Subject Test scores are strong enough to send, especially since your M2 and Physics scores speak to your quantitative skills in a way that your 30 Math does not.

  • Avatar Jenny says:

    Hi Art
    My son’s sat score is 1510. Sat subject test score is Math 2 – 800 Physics – 720.
    My son took test after physic class ( 11grade) not ap class. Is that good score (720) ?
    He will apply Havard, MIT, Stanford, Is that score enough score to apply?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Jenny,
      Those scores probably put your son in about the middle of an admitted class at those schools (maybe low middle). The 720 is not a bad score, although for the very top schools, it is nice to have STs in the 750-800 range.

  • Avatar Kim says:

    Hi –
    My daughter is looking to major in Math (education) and scored a 30 on the ACT in Math, 28 composite. Her SAT Subject Test in Math 2 is 650. Should we send it to UCI, UC Santa Barbara, USC?

  • Avatar MP says:

    Hi Art,
    My son scored a 790 Math/730 Reading&Writing on the SAT, and a 760 Math2 and 770 Physics. He has a 3.91 unweighted GPA (straight A’s in all but French) and is applying to Caltech and Harvey Mudd as a student athlete (each school’s coaches have verbally confirmed a spot on their roster if he passes admissions). Should he retake the Math2 and Physics or just the Math2?
    Thanks,
    MP

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      MP,
      Both colleges (well, particularly Caltech) are outliers because of the small, elite student bodies with math and science focus. Caltech traditionally has the highest standardized test scores in the country. This means that even your son’s 760 and 770 are “below average.” However, that’s not the same thing as “they will hold him back.” I would recommend retakes only if he feels that his schedule allows for the study and testing required. 30-40 points on a Subject Test is highly unlikely to be the tip factor.

  • Avatar CJ says:

    Can you talk at all about the foreign language subject tests? My daughter has a 33 ACT (34 superscored). She wants to study languages, so she took the French and Spanish subject tests and got a 650 and a 680 respectively, which is at the 62nd percentile on both. She is not a native speaker of either language. I’ve heard it’s hard to score high on the language tests because native speakers throw off the curve. How would you recommend she handle those scores at schools that recommend but do not require subject tests, or at schools that consider, but do not require or recommend, subject tests?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      CJ,
      Native speakers do not effect the curve in terms of the 200-800 scores, but it is true that they can impact the reported percentiles. Colleges understand this and look at Subject Tests in relation to languages a student has actually studied in high school. I don’t think that your daughter’s scores benefit her enough to submit. They can still be useful in terms of satisfying course prerequisites or language requirements in college. [I am assuming that she is a senior. If she is a junior, she should consider retaking the exams if she is still studying the languages.]

  • Avatar GS says:

    Hi Art,
    My son is a freshman and wants to pursue political science/law in a high selective school(Ivy). He just took the World History Subject exam and scored 760. He got a 4 in AP World History as a eighth grader. Do you recommend him to retake the subject exam. He is also planning to take Math 2 next year and US History as a junior.

    Thanks
    GS

  • Avatar J brown says:

    Art, my daughter scored a 1390 SAT (720 reading/writing and 670 math). She also scored a 680 SAT Math 2 subject test. She is straight A student and is taking AP Calculus. She is interested in engineering at UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine (SAT Math 2 recommended). Should she send in her Math 2 score?
    JB

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      J,
      Given her SAT Math score, I would go ahead and send her Math 2 score. My rough rule of thumb is that the Subject Test score should at least equal (approximately) the SAT score. Your daughter’s 680 fits, but it tells the schools that she also scores in that range on the advanced math expected of engineers.

  • Avatar KC says:

    Hi Art,
    My son scored a 1470 (790Math & 680CR) on the New SAT. For his SAT subject tests, he scored a 650 for Math 2 and 740 for Physics. He’s a straight A’s international student who’s planning to major in Economics. He’s particularly strong in Math and has been performing well in his practice tests. However, he got a high fever the night before the ST test day, causing him to perform poorly for both Math 2 and Physics, particularly Math 2 with a score of only 650. He’s applying to a few ivy leagues and UCs such as UCB, UCLA , UCSD, as well as Duke and Northwestern. Most of the them categorize ST as only “recommended” or “considered”.

    In his application, should he send in his ST? As his Math 2 score is particularly low, would it place his application under a bad light and add negative impressions to the admission officers if he sends his ST? And if he does send his ST scores, would it be okay if he explains that his low Math 2 scores was due to the unfortunate circumstance(his fever), in the “additional comments” section in the common app? Does the 790M in his SAT Reasoning justifies his poor Math 2 scores?

    Thank you for your time and I really appreciate it. 🙂

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      KC,
      I do not think it would be beneficial to submit his Math 2 score. If it is required, then I could see his Reasoning score and an explanation making an admission officer feel at ease about his math skills, but it’s harder to justify a case for voluntarily submitting it. He would be better off submitting Physics only or just his SAT score.

  • Avatar KC says:

    Art,
    Thank you for your reply.
    I have just found out that my son had made a request himself to send his ST scores to 4 institutions prior to the exam, and the sending of his ST score reports cannot be canceled at this point o f time.
    If that’s the case, would it be feasible for him to explain his unfortunate circumstance(his fever) in the “additional comments” of the Common App?
    Or would doing that put my son’s application at disadvantage as the admission officers might just think that he’s just giving excuses to cover up his poor scores?
    Once again, I sincerely thank you for your time invested.

  • Avatar JR says:

    Hi Art,
    I recently applied to the UCs for engineering. I received a 790 on the Math 2 Subject Test, but I unfortunately received a 660 on the Physics Subject Test which the UCs recommend taking if you’re majoring in engineering. I can’t retake it at this point, and I put on my UC app that I planned on taking it, so now I’m concerned. If I don’t submit it, they’ll know I didn’t do well, but submitting it could possibly hurt my chances even more. Would you recommend just submitting the Math 2 or submitting both? Do I need to notify the UCs if I decide to not send the Physics Subject Test score? Will the As I received in AP Physics 1 and the 4 I received on the AP Exam help compensate for not sending a Physics Subject Test score? Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      JR,
      Sorry for the delay. I don’t think that they would read too much into the fact that you planned on taking it. You also could have gotten sick. That said, I’d probably go ahead and submit both scores. You shouldn’t be concerned if you feel differently and want to submit only the Math 2.

  • Avatar Aspirant says:

    Art,
    I am an international and intend to apply to Top colleges (Ivy league ) to major in Economics. My scores are SAT 1510 Math 800 ERW 710; M2 800; US History 700. 4.0 GPA unweighted.
    I have never had a chance to formally study US History ( not taught in my country) and took it for SAT to understand USA better. Should I submit US History sores to the colleges which categorize it as i. Recommended ii. Optional?
    Thanks a lot.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Aspirant,
      You’ll want to verify policies with each college, because some schools where Subject Tests are optional for U.S. students are required for international students. In your case, yes, I would submit the U.S. History score.

  • Avatar Mom in CA says:

    Hi Art,

    Thank you for this great information about how to interpret the ST scores! We have been wrestling with what to do regarding our daughter’s scores and wondering if we got the correct advice or not. After reading this, I have more clarity but am still not completely sure if we should send them in (to Duke or Emory in particular). We have sent in both her SAT w/writing and ACT w/writing scores already; none of the schools on her list say they REQUIRE SAT Subject Tests. Duke states if you are only submitting the SAT (not ACT) then two subject tests are “strongly recommended”. Emory states that they are “encouraged, but not required”. Others (NYU, Columbia, Conn) state that they are “optional”. The rest don’t mention them at all.
    Her SAT was 1550 ( EBRW – 770, Math – 780) (99th %). ACT was 34 composite. Subject tests: Biology M – 700 (61st %) and Literature – 710 (78th %). She also scored 4 on both AP Bio and AP Lit exams.

    Duke’s new SAT ranges are EBRW 720-780 and Math 720-800, ACT 31-34.
    Emory’s new SAT ranges are EBRW 690-760 and Math 690-780, ACT 30-33.

    Based on your article it seems that her ST scores are not in line (below expectations) with her SAT and ACT scores, and would weaken her testing profile. However, they are both 700+ so not bad scores, and if these two schools encourage them then would it help her to submit these, to show them that at least she made the effort to take the exams? Our school counselor said not to because the percentiles were lower, which I now understand is not the factor upon which to make this decision, so it makes us wonder if we got the wrong advice. We would greatly appreciate your thoughts. Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Mom in CA,
      My apologies for the delayed response. The good news is that there is not really a wrong answer. Your daughter’s scores are not in a range where they would hurt her. They are also not so high that they’ll contribute much to her portfolio. As you already noted, I don’t like using percentiles for ST decisions. The pools of students taking SAT and STs are different, and the pools are not even the same when comparing different Subject Tests. Your daughter’s SAT scores are already extremely strong, so she is not needing to look to Subject Tests to act as a tip factor. I would agree with your counselor, just not quite with the reasoning.

  • Avatar stephanie says:

    My daughter took the MATH2 Subject test after her freshman year. She received a 780. She is considering retaking it since she is interested in a top engineering school. Next month she will take the full SAT, in hopes of getting 1550 or above. Would it be smart of her to try to get a perfect on the math2 after she takes calculous, or concentrate on other areas. In other words, if a perfect looks much better than a 780, she’ll retake, but if not, she’s happy with the score. Thanks for your thoughts

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Stephanie,
      I don’t think an 800 versus a 780 will make a difference in her admission chances. Some students feel more confident if they do achieve a perfect mark even if it doesn’t change their chances. It sounds like your daughter is happy and should focus her attention elsewhere.

  • Avatar FlyerDad says:

    Hello Art: I hope you are still checking this article–it’s the only one I’ve seen that specifically addresses subject matter tests. My son has a 35 ACT. He got a 760 on Math II, a 690 in Lit, and is planning on taking Spanish in August. He is applying to schools like Georgetown, Cornell, Northwestern, Wash U, UCLA, etc., likely as an Econ or Business major.

    I have three questions for you: (1) would you recommend he retake Lit when he takes the Spanish exam in August? (2) Would you recommend he retake Math as well? (3) If you retake a test, do you need to send in the original score as well? Thanks very much for your response. Reading your columns has been enormously helpful during this process.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      FlyerDad,
      For a Subject Test score to benefit your son at those schools, it would need to be above 690. That doesn’t mean he needs to retake — most of the schools you mention don’t require Subject Tests — but if he is already signed up for Spanish, I would recommend that he devote another hour to Literature. I’m sorry for the delayed response, but he can change his mind even on test day. He could also decide to retake Math if he is feeling up for it. That’s obviously not as critical, and it also depends on what he thinks he can achieve.

      • Avatar FlyerDad says:

        Hello Art: Thank you very much for your reply. My son did retake Math and Lit and this time got an 800 in Math II (previously 760) and 760 in Lit (previously 690), so he is thrilled about his scores. He will take Spanish in October to fulfill the requirement for Georgetown, which which he is currently infatuated . . . Do you think his new testing profile (35 ACT, 800 Math II, 760 Lit, 219 PSAT) is realistically strong enough for UPenn and Brown (along with G-town, Northwestern and UCLA)? I know how competitive those schools are and that his GPA (3.8 UW), ECs and letters will all of course be factors as well.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          FlyerDad,
          At schools such as UPenn, Brown, et al., scores alone won’t get a student in, so the best way of considering whether or not scores are “strong enough” is to ask whether they are competitive versus other applicants. Your son’s scores would be above average for accepted students at all of the colleges you list. There is no reason for your son to re-test and no reason for him to think his scores will hold him back.

  • Avatar Elizabeth says:

    First of all, I want to say thank you so much for your posts! I am a public school counselor and I don’t have a lot of time to focus on the ins/outs of testing and want to be able to help my students present themselves in the best way possible. I am struggling with this scenario – I have a student that scored 710 on the Chem and wants to go into pre-med and is looking at some highly selective schools. Not submitting his SAT score and is going with ACT instead with a score of 34. His #1 school recommends submitting SAT subject tests in proposed areas of study. Should he submit? Or not – since they only recommend…. and could it hurt him since it is his area of study?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Elizabeth,
      I’m glad that the site is of value, and I’m sorry for my delayed response. If his only strong Subject Test score is Chem, then I’d advise against submitting. If he had, let’s say, a 790 Math 2, then Subject Tests might be of benefit. A solo score of 710, though, is not going to help differentiate him. The other option would be to retake.

  • Avatar senior student says:

    Hi Art,

    I have ACT 34 (using two sittings, the composite is 35) and took two SAT subject tests: Math 2 – 770 and Literature – 730. I am considering applying REA to either Harvard, Princeton or Yale. As an international student, we have fewer testing dates and I cannot sit another test before the REA deadline. I am content with my Math 2 score, but is my Literature score good enough to apply to these competitive schools? The alternative is to retake and then apply RD with a (hopefully) higher score. If I retake, I am planning to take either US or World History in addition to Literature in order to have more options. Please let me know what you think the best course of action is. Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Senior,
      I would not advise a student to change application strategy just to retake a Subject Test — especially one already at 730. You can always retake and update your file. It won’t necessarily be considered for REA, but it would be there should you be deferred.

  • Avatar Gatordad says:

    Hi. Thanks for a great article. What would you recommend for a student with a 32 ACT that got a 690 on LIT and a 640 on History applying to Tulane, that has subject tests as optional? Does the effort to take them outweigh the low scores, or should she not send them? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Gatordad,
      For Subject Test optional schools, the question is whether or not scores will help an admission officer make a favorable decision. The 690/640 would probably not be a negative, but I don’t think that they embellish your daughter’s ACT score.

  • Avatar Bigdad930 says:

    Dear Art,

    My son is a senior now and he is now prep for his common app and college supplemental essays. He is planning to major in economics or business.

    I have a question on his SAT subject test. He got a 800 on math 2, 760 on physics, 740 on US history. He got a 1570 on his SAT.

    1) I assume 760 and 740 are good ST scores and no need to retake correct? He plans to apply for UChucago, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Tufts..
    2) For college like UChucago … will you recommend we send them the subject test scores.

    Thanks

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Bigdad,
      1) No need to retake. Your son’s test portfolio is already impressive enough.
      2) Since there is nothing to hide, I would definitely send them to all his colleges.

  • Avatar Anonymous says:

    Dear Art,
    I am planning on applying early to highly selective schools and intend to major in a STEM field. I have a GPA of 4.5, a 34 ACT and Subject test scores of 800 Math 2, 750 Physics and 800 Language with Listening. I was wondering if I should retake ST Physics, submit my highest two STs or submit all three ST scores.
    Thanks you very much for your advise!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I would send all 3 scores, especially since Physics says more than a language exam about your ability to excel in a STEM field. It’s unlikely that retesting in Physics would improve your testing portfolio.

  • Avatar Subby says:

    Dear Art,

    My Daughter has ACT 30 and 690 is Math II. She is planning to do Mathematics Major. Should I report Math II ?. Is 690 is a good score. She has retaken ACT and expects about 33-35.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Subby,
      I would probably not report it, especially if your daughter is able to raise her score to the 33-35 level. While not a bad score, the 690 does not really advance her case.

  • Avatar Ganu says:

    Hello Art,

    Really great article.

    My son has a 35 ACT and 800 in 3 Subject tests (Bio, Math & Chem). He also took the SAT once and scored 1400. My question is can he just submit the ACT and the Subject SAT scores to colleges that require all ACT or All SAT (Carnegie Mellon for example)? Or does he have to report the SAT I if he reports the Subject SATs?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ganu,
      My understanding of the CMU policy is that your student must send all of the scores for a particular set of tests. If he is submitting ACT scores, he is supposed to submit all ACT scores. If he submits SAT scores he is required to submit all SAT scores. There is nothing that says he must supply all SAT scores if he submits Subject Tests. College Board Score Choice policies were written only to reflect SAT requirements (not Subject Tests), so it will display as CMU not accepting Score Choice. Simply ignore that warning and use Score Choice to send CMU your son’s Subject Test scores.

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