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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.

223 Comments

  • Avatar Taylor says:

    Dear Art,

    I am a senior and I am applying to top universities, such as Brown, Yale, Duke, etc. Most of these Ivy league schools recommend 2 SAT subject tests. For Math 2, I got a 720 and for chemistry I got a 710. At this point I do not plan to retake. Should I send these scores?

    Other things to consider: my ACT composite is 33 (math as 32); I have gotten a 4 on the ap chem exam, 5 on ap psychology, 5 in ap world, 4 in ap language and composition, etc.
    Should I send my ap scores as well? Would that help me?
    What would serve me best as a whole when sending standardized testing?

    Thank you, Art!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Taylor,
      Your composite is concordant with a 1460 SAT, so your 720/710 are roughly in line. However, at the schools you list, your 33 is at the lower end of their 25th-75th percentile ranges for admitted students. I don’t think your Subject Test scores improve your testing portfolio. I would go ahead and submit your AP scores.

  • Avatar Chaemin says:

    Hello, I recently retook the Korean Subject test and got a 790. Should I keep this with my Spanish? (790). I was born in South Korea but lived across the world under a diplomat family and am applying as a liberal arts major with a minor in CS. Since Scholastic/Torrance Legacy awards prove my competency in English (at least writing poetry) should I let this Korean be? I’m not sure since I got a 42nd percentile and am technically a “native speaker”

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Chaemin,
      Colleges will generally discount a Subject Test in a native language. I would not, however, be concerned that you got a 790 versus an 800. I think you should go ahead and submit both scores.

  • Avatar Mahesh says:

    Art,

    My son has a perfect score on ACT (all sections perfect). His subject test scores are Math II – 790 and Biology – M – 790. While applying for Vanderbilt we read that they do not require Subject test scores. However, if we send them the scores they would consider them in the application process. Please suggest whether submitting the subject test scores is beneficial or does it hurt the application.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Mahesh,
      Even in your son’s case, I think the 790s extend his amazing testing portfolio. I would submit them. Most, but not all, schools will at least consider scores as “additional material.”

  • Avatar Franciesco says:

    Hello. I have a plan to apply University of Oregon, which does not require even SAT general from international students. I have 1270(ERW:540;MATH:730) in SAT and 700 in Subject test Math Lvl 2. Would you recommend to submit my Subject Test result also?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      For international students, I recommend as much positive testing information as possible, since it admissions officers benefit from having a standardized evaluation. So go ahead and send the Subject Test.

  • Avatar Aki says:

    Dear Art, I am wondering what to do with subject test scores ( Math II-710, Bio-M-710, Chem-720) not good enough to help my daughter’s admission to selective colleges. I hear ” subject tests recommend ” is more like “subject tests required” if there is no financial hardship . It is better not to report them if they don’t require them? Or what I hear is true and better reporting them if they recommend them? Her ACT is 35.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Aki,
      There is no easy answer here. Your interpretation is correct that, at some schools, “recommended” means “pretty much expected.” Your daughter’s scores are a little lower than what the most selective colleges will see among accepted students, but they are not bad. It’s a bit of a toss-up. I would probably not report them, but I don’t think it will be a significant factor.

  • Avatar Shay says:

    Hi,

    I got a 36 ACT, 1550 SAT (750 english and 800 math), a 730 on SAT Chemistry and a 800 on SAT Math. I was wondering if I should submit both my ACT and SAT I or just my ACT since it is higher? Also, should I send the SAT Chemistry only to schools that require/recommend it, or should I go ahead and send it to all my schools? I am aiming for top schools such as Hopkins, Brown, UVA, WashU, etc. Also, I got a 3 on my SAT Chemistry if that affects anything

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Shay,
      I would send ACT, Math, and Chem. I don’t see a reason to submit your SAT score, although in tandem with your ACT, it is not going to hurt you at all. Your Subject Test scores are string enough to send to all schools.

  • Avatar Nada says:

    Hi Art,

    My brother scored ERW 730/ M 670 on his SAT. He did 3 subject tests on the same day and scored as follows: Chem 730, Math level 2 680 and Bio-M 690. He’s very passionate about chemistry and wants to major in biochem or equivalent in top schools (hoping to get a PharmD) in the future. We feel like his Math level 2 and Bio-M scores are too low and may disadvantage his applications at Ivys and top schools. Any thoughts on if we should submit them or not? Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Nada,
      There is not a clearcut answer here, because his SAT scores are also a bit weak for the most selective schools. His Math 2 and Bio scores are actually higher than his SAT Math. If he has the opportunity, I would recommend an SAT retest. I think you are that his Subject Test scores don’t improve his testing portfolio.

  • Avatar Margaret says:

    Art,

    We are trying to determine which of our daughter’s scores from her SAT subject tests she should submit. She has an 800 on English Literature, a 700 on US History and a 35 composite on the ACT. She’s applying top very selective liberal arts colleges. None of the schools on her list require SAT subject tests, only one school recommends them, but all of the schools will consider SAT subject tests if submitted according the schools’ common data sets.

    The 800 on English Literature will bolster her testing profile, but the 700 on US History will not. So our question is whether she should submit both scores or only English Literature. Do you have a sense of how submitting only one SAT subject test will be viewed? Most everything that we’ve seen indicates that two or more subject tests are submitted if scores are submitted at all.

    Thanks so much for your helpful blogs. They are the best resources on the internet!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Margaret,
      Schools that “consider” scores are allowing students to send along “plus factors.” Your daughter’s Lit score qualifies. I agree that her U.S. History does not (although it’s not bad). Schools that recommend Subject Tests are usually expecting 2 tests when Subject Tests are submitted. Her average of 750 is good, so I would probably go ahead and submit both scores. It’s not uncommon for students to have one great and one good score.

      Thank you for the kind words!

  • Avatar Bin says:

    Dear Art,
    My son has SAT 1520(Math 790) and Math2 730. He is a senior and applying for Finance/business . Should he submit SAT subject Math2 or skip it (none of the schools he applies required subject tests.) Or should he retake in December?
    Thanks,
    Bin

  • Avatar Teddy says:

    Hi Art!
    Would further testing be necessary? I scored 33 ACT on the April and October tests with my max in each section being a 35 ENG, 35 MATH, 30 READ, and 35 SCI. As well, I took Math II and Physics subject test twice. The second time for both were significant improvements with a 770 math and 680 physics. Are these worth sending to the UC colleges considering it is highly recommended since my major is computer science. I already took both subject tests twice and I have to submit all scores so should I take the December test? Thanks so much!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Teddy,
      In your case, I would go ahead and submit your Subject Test scores. Your Physics score is not ideal, but I would only retest if you feel that the third try would definitely make a difference. You didn’t mention whether you improved from your first attempt.

  • Avatar Alice says:

    Art,
    This is a great article, and I’m a year late on this thread. How important are the Math 2 percentiles? Should a student who scores 790 (74 percentile!) retake? Is it even possible to get 99 percentile with an 800? Does it depend on the type of question answered? It is all so confusing.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Alice,
      Subject Test percentiles are highly misleading, and I would not recommend retesting. Even an 800 is 78th percentile. [For Subject Tests, College Board uses the definition of students scoring below a given score. This is different than on the SAT where College Board uses the definition of “at or below.” This is why a 99th percentile is impossible on Math 2.] Given the standard error on Subject Tests, an 800 and a 790 are indistinguishable. No, the type of question does not matter.

  • Avatar Tony says:

    Hi Art!
    Your blog was really helpful.
    However, I am in a tough situation. I took the SAT Subject Test(s) on the same day, resulting in SAT Math II 800 and SAT Physics 630. Physics was so rushed for me on that day, considering that I focused very hard on Math II. I want to apply to competitive Computer Science / Engineering Schools, so should I avoid sending in my SAT Physics score? Most of them don’t require subject tests, but I feel like I’m at a disadvantage without a Physics Score on there (considering that I took AP Physics 1 and 2)

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Tony,
      While it would be great to submit strong Math 2 and Physics scores, I don’t think your 630 does you any favors. I would let your grades and APs represent your skills.

  • Avatar Venky says:

    Hi Art,
    My daughter has an SAT score of 700 Math/710 ERW and presently SAT Subject Tests of 620 Math Level 2 and 650 Biology-M. is she better of applying off not submitting Subject scores? She is looking to apply to places like Cornell and UCal and Barnard.

  • Avatar Corinne says:

    Hi Art,
    My son has a score of 35 for ACT, 750 for Math 2 SAT test and 710 for Physics SAT test. He is applying to Georgia tech with a mechanical engineering major. Should he submit his SAT test scores?
    Thank you for your help,
    Corinne

  • Avatar John says:

    Hi Art,
    Your article is so informative and so your replies to the questions. Thank you so much. My daughter got SAT 1440 (670 ERW and 770 Math), 730 in SAT Subject Test Math2 and 730 in SAT Subject Test Chemistry. Wondering whether she should submit 730 Math2 score. Will it be a disadvantage because 730 is lower than her 770 score and will it put her in bad light?
    Thanks,
    John

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      John,
      There is not a big difference between her 770 and 730. I would recommend submitting both Math 2 and Chemistry, as they speak to her strength in STEM and offset her lower ERW score.

  • Avatar Amy says:

    Hi Art,
    I am a current high school senior and am deliberating whether to report these subject scores to competitive schools (including Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Amherst, Princeton, and Cornell): Math 2 (740), Literature (760), Biology – E (660). I acknowledge that my Bio score is relatively low, but should I submit it anyway? I intend to apply to the vast majority of colleges as a Neuroscience or Cognitive Science major and fear that reporting this score could undermine my application. I only took a general Biology course during my freshman year of high school and am currently taking AP Bio at my school. I have a high grade in AP Bio and wonder if this could compensate for my lousy 660?
    Also, not sure if this helps, but I earned an SAT superscore of 1540 (780 EBRW/760 M). What course of action do you recommend?

  • Avatar Rosemary says:

    This webpage is a treasure trove of helpful information. Thank you. My daughter has a composite 35 ACT, though her math is 32. She scored a 750 on the Math 2 Subject test. She also has a 770 BiologyM and a 750 US History (5 on the US AP). She is a senior and will not do further testing at this point. Should we have her submit all 3 scores if it is not required? She is applying to top 10 schools.

  • Avatar Sarah says:

    Hi Art!
    If a highly selective school including Ivy League recommends subject tests do they usually want the official score report.
    Most of the schools my daughter is applying to are ok with self-reported ACT/ SAT scores but it is unclear about subject tests.
    I don’t want to bug the admission office of each school. We can just send one to every school but it does get expensive at 11 schools.
    Do you have any idea?
    Thanks.
    Sarah

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sarah,
      AFAIK, the self-reporting option applies to Subject Tests. The idea is to relieve students of the burden of official reports until official reports are actually needed.

  • Avatar Stephen says:

    Hi, Art. I love your blogs and find them incredibly informative and helpful.

    Our daughter is applying to selective liberal arts colleges this fall and is considering whether to submit her SAT subject test scores as part of her applications. The top schools on her list are Carleton (the only school that “recommends“ SAT subject tests), Bowdoin and Bates.

    She has a 35 composite on the ACT, a 700 on the US History SAT subject test and a 700 on the English Literature SAT subject test. She’s retaking the English Literature SAT subject test this weekend.

    What’s your suggestion on submitting or not submitting the scores from her SAT subject tests?

    Thanks.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Stephen,
      Thank you for the kind words. Bowdoin and Bates have been proudly test optional for years, so we can safely assume that they won’t mind if your daughter doesn’t submit her Subject Test scores. Carleton’s recommendation is also what I would consider a weak one. The language is almost unchanged from 20 years ago! I think your daughter’s ACT score is strong enough to stand on its own.

      • Avatar Stephen says:

        Good morning, Art. Our daughter received an 800 on the English Literature subject test that she took in October. We know that she should submit that score to Carleton and the other schools that consider SAT subject tests, but should she also submit her 700 US History score from May? We are not sure how schools view submitting a single SAT subject test. Thanks again for providing such sage advice.

  • Avatar Scott R. says:

    I have a question. My child’s ACT score is Composite: 35 English: 35, Math: 35, Reading: 32, Science: 36. Her SAT Subject tests are Math II 750 & Bio/E 730.

    She is applying to some “SAT Subject test recommended” Ivy League schools. Seems to me the subject tests are not as good as the ACT and she should just submit the ACT scores regardless of the “recommendation”. Can you provide your opinion on this issue, I have been advice in both directions.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Scott,
      I’m not surprised that you’ve received advice in both directions, because there is not a clearcut right and wrong given your daughter’s scores. While it’s true that your daughter’s ACT score is a bit stronger than her Subject Test scores, the latter hardly put her in a bad light. They extend her testing portfolio even if they don’t amplify it. I would opt for sending her Subject Test scores.

  • Avatar Eric says:

    Hi Art,

    My daughter who is junior now, plan to pick engineering as her career field(not sure what kind). She wrote SAT Chem last month (630) . At the end of junior year she plans to test in SAT Math 2 & SAT Physics (currently taking Physics Honors in her class). Is this right approach? Do you recommend taking SAT US history (as shes currently taking AP USH)? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Eric,
      Yes, that’s the right approach. I encourage students doing well in AP USH to take the Subject Test. It makes for a long morning, but she can knock out Math 2, Physics, and U.S. History on the same date. I recommend that she take practice Subject Tests even if she doesn’t have time for full prep. She may find herself better prepared for one subject or another. Since students can choose the order of testing, she can give priority to her strongest subject.

  • Avatar OEZ says:

    Dear Art, thank you for your article. It was incredibly informative. A question for you -my son received a 760 Math2 and 680 US History. (He had not covered enough Physics to take the subject test as a junior. He is taking the equivalent of AP Physics this year, so is eligible to take the exam this year (though this will be too late to help in admissions). However, he received a 4 in AB Calc, 5 in US History, 4 in Spanish. He is thinking about applying to Duke ED. They do not seem to require subject tests for those that submit ACTs (his composite was a 34 (E36|M33|R35|S31)). 1. Would it harm his admissions chances to self-report only his Math2 subject test? Or should he self-report neither? Should any of the AP exam scores be reported? 2. He may end up applying Engineering to some of the other schools on his list (not Duke). For those schools that might recommend subject tests but not required, should we just send the score to the school rather than self reporting if we shouldn’t be sending those scores to his ED choice? And for those schools, should we just send the Math2 and leave out the US History? (ex. Michigan, Wisconsin, UCLA, USC, BU, GWU) Thank you so much for your help!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      OEZ,
      When Subject Tests are not required, I try to step back and ask, “What is accomplished by submitting them?” In your son’s case, his M2 score could help engineering programs feel comfortable with his math skills. His history score doesn’t improve his testing portfolio, so I don’t see the need to send it. I’m not as familiar with how AP scores are assessed by admission offices, so I don’t want to advise there. If he reports the M2 score to colleges, then it’s straightforward. He can self-report the score on his application and use Score Choice to only send the Math 2 results.

  • Avatar Kyle says:

    Hi Art:

    I am a senior hoping to go into a business/computer science field. I have a 1560 on the SAT (780 and 780). I have a perfect score on the math2 subject test. Which other subject tests should I take. I was thinking of taking english. I already took physics and only got a 650, and I know that score would not help me when applying to top universities such as MIT, USC, and Harvard. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Kyle,
      I’m afraid that I can’t help you with that choice. My advice would be to pick up the Official Study Guide for All Subject Tests and see how you would do on Literature and any other possibilities. Given your choice in majors, the exact subject shouldn’t matter. Students often take Subject Tests in AP subjects where they have received 5s, so that might help you narrow things down.

  • Avatar stacey says:

    Hi Art,
    My daughter got a 740 on the math 2 subject test. She will be applying to several Ivy League schools as well as MIT, UVA, University of Maryland and RPI. Her goal is to become an Astrophysicist/Astronomer. Is this score competitive enough? Or should she retake it? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Stacey,
      So many factors come into play that I don’t want to be too definitive. A 740 Math 2 score is solid. My guess is that it would put her at the upper end of the pool at University of Maryland. At MIT, it would not. If she has done well on practice tests and feels that her 740 is not her best performance AND taking the test again doesn’t unreasonably interfere with her applications, I would encourage her to retest. She only needs to submit her best performance.

  • Avatar Laura says:

    Hi Art,
    Thank you for the great articles. Very impressed by your replies to questions.

    My daughter is a junior. She got 800 in SAT math 2, physics and bio-M, but her world history is only 720 due to lack of practice. She got 5 on her AP world history (also all other APs so far: calc BC, physics C, human geography). She hasn’t taken sat 1 or ACT yet and plan to take sat 1 in Nov or Dec.
    She plans to apply for some highly selective colleges, with an interest in STEM or medicine or business. What do you recommend for the following 2 questions?

    A: about taking subject test
    1. Retake world history soon. We are sure that she will improve if retake, as she had little time to prepare last time. But she plans to take Sat 1 in Nov or Dec, so not sure if this will be an extra burden. But the preparation time probably is less than doing the next option.
    2. Not retake world history, but take US history after she finishes it this year, so that she has a subject on humanity.
    3. Not take any more subject test

    B: Assuming she doesn’t retake, do we send the world history score (720) to schools? Does the 720 do a disservice to her given that she has a 5 on ap world and an A from her class?

    Thank you.
    Laura

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Laura,
      1) Do not have her retake World History. It is her fourth ST, so it’s largely irrelevant. It’s a great score for a fourth test. It’s not an easy test to prep for.
      2) Having a humanities ST on her record is not essential. If the test date for U.S. History works for her, then she can take it. Given her existing scores, I don’t think I’d bother.
      3) I’m tempted to go for this answer. Most students would trade a birthday to have three 800s and a 720.
      B) I would still send it. Most colleges are not going to care about a fourth test, but as mentioned above, it’s a good score for a fourth exam. You won’t go wrong either way given the strength of your daughter’s scores.

  • Avatar Beth says:

    Hi Art!

    Thank you so much for your article! My daughter is applying to some Ivies, namely Brown and Yale, but is a bit worried about her testing portfolio. She got a 1490 on the SAT (780-ERW, 710-Math) and has a 700 on US History with a 4 on AP US History. Brown and Yale both seem to “recommend” 2 subject tests, so she is also planning on taking Math 2 in October. Do you think it will negatively affect her to report her 700 or do you think she should go ahead and send it in? Furthermore, what score do you think she should be aiming for to remain competitive on Math 2 at Brown and Yale?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Beth,
      The rule of thumb that I use is that a Subject Test score should, ideally, pull up a student’s test average. In your daughter’s case, her 700 doesn’t do that. If she does great on Math 2, though, I’d be tempted to submit both scores. In the case of Brown and Yale, “great” would mean in the 750-800 range.

  • Avatar Autumn says:

    hi art,
    I am applying to the t20 schools as a computer science major. I recently took the physics subject test in June and received a 770. Should I retake to get an 800 or is my score good enough for the colleges I am applying to?

    Autumn

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Autumn,
      I would discourage a student with a 770 from retesting. I would focus on the rest of your testing portfolio — in your case, I would recommend a strong Math 2 performance and great SAT or ACT scores. If you already have those in place, wonderful!

  • Avatar hannah says:

    Hi Art,
    I am aiming mainly for top 10 universities, probably to study english, music, or mathematics & philosophy, and have taken 4 Subject Tests, getting a 730 in Math II, 790 in Literature, 760 in Biology, and a 690 in World History.
    As I am homeschooled, I thought it would be a good idea to take a diverse array of subject tests, but do you think it makes sense to send in my 690 in World history?
    Would it hurt my chances at an Ivy?
    thanks-

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Hannah,
      You are correct that presenting a diverse array of scores is particularly important for homeschooled students. I would go ahead and include the 690 in your case. A) It’s your 4th Subject Test, and most schools will care about the top 2. B) The more you can quantify your achievements as a homeschooler, the better.

  • Avatar Pamela says:

    Art,
    With the IVY and similar caliber schools all drifting toward subject tests being options (each school having its own language) are students that do not submit subject tests gaining admission? I have heard that if your child attends a high school where many of the students tend to take subject tests that college admissions teams will weight that against your child’s application if they don’t submit subject subject tests. What are you hearing? Are SAT Subject tests really optional? Many thanks for your insights.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Pamela,
      Colleges have not wanted to lose out on talented students who have not taken Subject Tests. They’ve found, in particular, that a 100% requirement is an obstacle to diversity initiatives. We find that the majority of applicants to the most selective colleges still submit Subject Test scores. Not providing Subject Test scores can be a disadvantage in two ways. 1) An admission officer may, as you say, think it suspicious that Subject Test scores are missing. 2) An applicant is competing against thousands of other applicants who are presenting top-notch scores.

      Student A has a 750 ERW and 750 M. Student B has 750 ERW, 750 M, 800 Math 2, 760 Bio, and 730 Literature. All things equal, Student B has a more compelling testing portfolio. The elimination of an absolute Subject Test requirement is a good thing, but students should not confuse this with “Subject Tests don’t matter.”

  • Avatar steve says:

    Hi Art,

    My son did well on his math and chemistry, perfect and 760, respectively. Which meets his requirement of 2 subject test. He is trying to take French and American Literature, instead of his bio and physics which he is top % on. Does the STEM or non-STEM subject areas matters to the top schools?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Steve,
      If he is applying for an engineering or other STEM program, I’d encourage Bio or Physics. But with his Math and Chemistry scores, he is already in good shape. Outside of certain science programs, it’s the score levels that will matter. Don’t get too hung up on percentiles. It’s not easy to post a high score in French.

  • Avatar SG says:

    My daughter only took the ACT, didn’t take the SAT so harder to understand her Subject Test results. Do I have this math approximately correct? Math/Science on ACT 32 = SAT Math 710 = SAT Math 2 Subject Test 730?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      SG,
      I think that’s a fair approximation. The official ACT Math to SAT Math concordance is 32 to 720. There is no set relationship between SAT scores and Math 2 scores, but students submitting Math 2 scores have usually done better than they did on the SAT Math.

  • Avatar Sandy says:

    Hi Art,
    My son is starting his senior year and has 1570 on his SAT. He has taken SAT 2 subject tests in US History (800), Math 2 (790), Physics(740), and literature (720). He wants to go to Columbia university. Should he submit all his Sat 2 subject scores or omit the lower scores?
    Thanks!

  • Avatar CH says:

    My daughter’s SAT is 1510 (790M, 720EBRW). She is a rising senior interested in a STEM-related major. At the end of 10th grade, she took two subject tests (730 Math 2, 690 Chemistry). At the end of 11th grade, she registered for two subject tests (790 Math 2, passed on Biology due to limited studying and poor practice tests). She is adamant that she will not retake any more testing. Q1: For schools on her list where subject tests are “recommended” and/or “considered,” does she submit a) both Math 2 and Chemistry scores, b) only the Math 2 score, or c) neither? Thanks.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      CH,
      I would not submit the scores to colleges that “consider” Subject Test scores. You would want to have scores that boost your daughter’s testing profile, and I don’t think the 790/690 do that. It wouldn’t hurt to provide the Math 2. It’s harder to provide advice for schools that recommend scores. In most cases, I would recommend against submitting her Chem score and would let the rest of her application sell her STEM abilities. If a school has average SAT scores in the 1400 range, then submitting Chemistry might be of value.

  • Avatar SM says:

    Hello Mr. Art,
    Loved your article! Very helpful to understand the various options. My daughter is a rising sophomore and she scored 750 – World History ; Bio-E – 710 and Math Level 2 subject test – 620. She is very disappointed by her Math score and wants to re-take Math Level 2 in August. She also wants to improve her Bio score. She scored 4 in her AP Bio and 5 in AP World History exams. Her 10th grade subjects will be AP Chemistry, AP French, AP American History, AP Calculus, American Literature (Honors). She is interested in medicine and feels confident she can improve her scores. What is your recommendation on her re-taking only Math Level 2 in August versus taking both Math and Bio-E??

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you, SM!

      As a rising sophomore, your daughter has plenty of options. Her Bio is unlikely to get any fresher, so if she wants to improve it, sooner is better. While she’ll have other opportunities to raise her Math 2 score, I’m sure the 620 is gnawing at her. One thing I like about Subject Tests is that they afford students a say in how many tests to take and in what order. My personal recommendation would be to start her day with Math 2. As long as she is not feeling spent, I’d have her then take Bio-E. That way Bio doesn’t get in the way of Math, but she still has an opportunity to raise her 710. College Board doesn’t refund test fees if a student opts out of a scheduled Subject Test, but there is no non-financial penalty for passing on a test.

  • Avatar Michelle says:

    Hi Art: Terrific article! Question about my daughter. She is applying to Top 10 schools, has a 1580 SAT (790, 790), 4.0 GPA and six AP tests (including 5’s in BC Calc, Bio, US Government, Eng Language, Psych and a 4 in Chem). Her SAT Subject tests are Bio-E (750), Chem (750), and Math II (740). She was pretty burned out when she took the Chem and Math-II, so she could probably do better if she had more time to study. But she is busy with college apps and all the other fun stuff required of a rising Senior. Do you think she should retake one or more of the SAT Subject tests, or does her application as a whole look like she’s done enough on the academic side? Thanks so much!!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      She has a really strong testing portfolio even without retesting. She is penalized a bit because some colleges will look at a student’s best two Subject Tests. She is not rewarded for her consistency in those cases.

      Having good scores already on file can be liberating. There is little to lose — other than the test fees and some time — in retesting. Schedule an August or October test date with a plan to retest. Don’t obsess about lots of added study. Be willing to simply back out if things get too crazy. It can be hard for excellent students such as your daughter to feel like they are taking a test “unprepared,” but I’m willing to bet that she can at least bring up her Math 2 without much additional work.

  • Avatar Priya says:

    My daughter is a rising junior, she is hoping to get recruited for a sport at either top d3 schools(Uchicago, emory, washu, cornell) or top lacs(Amherst/Swarthmore/Williams).
    She took ap us history test and has a 5 in it but her subject sat US history score is 670. She is planning to take ACT/SAT over the next few months and Math 2 subject test.
    Is this 670 score any good at these schools, they do accept little lower scores for athletes but not sure if we should just report her ap score and not subject test score or report both.

    She may apply to Georgetown which requires multiple subject tests, is it OK to use this as one of the scores.

    Retaking may not be option as she needs to work on other tests.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Priya,
      The number of schools requiring Subject Tests has plummeted in recent years. Among the schools you mention, only Cornell still requires Subject Tests — and even there it is not for all programs. [It is true that there are colleges such as Georgetown where the “recommended” really means “required,” but even that is growing lesson common.] For me, the question is whether your daughter’s 670 raises or lowers the quality of her test portfolio. Since she hasn’t taken the ACT/SAT yet, we don’t really know. For example, if she gets a 1460 SAT score, I’d consider the US History score to be a drag on her application. If she gets a 1200, the reverse would be true. In isolation, a 670 doesn’t help a student at the schools you mention, because most applicants will have done better.

      You are correct that different standards apply to recruited athletes. Generally what coaches and admission offices are going to be looking at, though, are your daughter’s SAT or ACT scores. Those will be far more important than her US History score.

  • Avatar Amie says:

    Hey Mr Art!
    I gave the Math Level 2 on JUne 1 ( I am International) and got a 770 on it. I have 1460 on my SAT . Would that be good enough to get into Carnegie mellon , or University Of wisconsin Madison , UCs (santa barbara , irvine and davis) , Penn State University or NYU for Computer Engineering or Computer Science ??
    Regards

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Amie,
      “Good enough” questions are hard to answer. Are those scores good enough in the sense of, “Do students with those scores get accepted?” Yes. Are the scores good enough in the sense of, “Will I get accepted based on those scores?” No (but that’s true of any scores). Spots for international students can be particularly competitive. I would not worry about trying to improve a 770 Math 2 score. I don’t think the scales will be tipped because you get an 800 versus a 770. As I just mentioned to another commenter, engineering programs like to see strength in math AND science. That strength can be demonstrated in ways other than Subject Test scores, of course, but Subject Tests are a handy scorecard for international students.

  • Avatar pam says:

    Art,
    My daughter has a 740 math and 780 English super score SAT. She just today received her US History subject score which is 730. Based on your article and Q&A I think you are going to tell her she should retake the exam? But that gaining points on the US History exam is challenging. Here is a little more background on her and the related subject test challenge. She is a rising senior. Her GPA is 97 with a challenging course load. She has taken 3 AP exams and scored all 5s. Next year she will continue with her challenging course load taking AP Lit, AP Calc, AP Economics, AP Bio, Spanish 4 and Latin 3. She will have strong teacher recommendations and has ample awards, leadership and volunteering. She does want to apply to the best Universities but is worried about subject tests. She has run cold on bio and chem as she took those in 9th and 10th grades and at her school the AP classes for bio and chem are not available until senior year – and that’s too late. She is not a natural “mathy” and does not want to take the math subject test as she thinks it will be difficult to achieve a 740 or higher. That leaves her with US History and Lit. And maybe Spanish. Thoughts?

    By the way, you have best article and comments out there on subject tests – thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Pam,
      It’s confusing enough for students to deal with SATs, ACTs, and APs. Then Subject Tests come along and really make things crazy. The good news is that fewer colleges than ever require Subject Tests. If your daughter is not able to put up two great Subject Test scores, she is still going to have a great record. And many students would be happy with a 730.

      If you daughter weren’t looking at another Subject Test sitting, I’d tell her not to retake U.S. History. But if she does want to get in a second subject, my suggestion would be to go ahead and spend the extra hour re-taking U.S. History. She really has nothing to lose (although don’t get me started on Georgetown and its ALL SCORES policy). College Board has released tests in all subjects, so she can always see how she might do in Lit, Spanish, Math, etc.

  • Avatar HS says:

    My daughter received 760 on the sat 2 subject test. She is planning to apply to engineering at good colleges like Cornell, Berkeley, cmu, and Georgia tech. Do you recommend that she retake the test?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      HS,
      You don’t mention what subject, although I suspect you are referring to Math 2. There are a couple of things to consider. First, top engineering programs like to see a strong math score and a strong science score. If she has only one or the other, then retesting would allow her to shoot for better than a 760 while also adding another subject. By itself, a 760 Math is unlikely to hurt her, but it would be better in the company of a high science score.

      • Avatar HS says:

        Thank you for your answer. I was referring to math 2. She is going to be a sophomore so she only took math 2 so far. She will be taking another science sat subject test after learning it at school. We are just wondering whether she should retake the math 2 subject test in August ( she just finished honors pre calculus) given the colleges she wants to apply in engineering.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Ah, that makes sense. She should definitely retake the Math 2 when she takes additional Subject Tests. If she already has a 770 (!), I’m sure that she can get that to an 800.

  • Avatar Catherine says:

    Art,

    My son got 1580 (790 Reading/Writing, 790 Math). His took Math 2 and got 800, but his second subject Chemistry was 750. He is aiming for few Ivy schools. Do you recommend that he retake the Chemistry SAT?

    Thanks!

    Catherine

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Catherine,
      I rarely recommend a retest for a 750 Subject Test score. I could see an exception if (a) your son thinks he can do better and can spare the time and (b) he is applying to extremely competitive STEM schools/programs such as CalTech/MIT or a BS/MD program. A higher Chem score is just not going to be a differentiating factor in the majority of cases. His testing portfolio is already quite strong.

  • Avatar Ashley says:

    Hi Art,

    My daughter scored 1510 on the SAT ( R/W 710 and Math 800). She just took the SAT subject Math 2 and USH yesterday. She does not feel as confident as she had hoped for. What kind of score that she needs to get to improve or at least not to hurt her testing porfolio?
    Thank you

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ashley,
      If she is applying to the most competitive programs, I’d want to see scores at or near 750+ (at least on average). For example, 710/710 on the Subject Tests will not do her any favors unless the college requires STs. She can repeat her Subject Tests, of course.

  • Avatar CK says:

    Hello Art,
    My daughter who is finishing her junior year scored a 1550 on the SAT (770 E, 780 M) with an 800 on the Math 2 SAT II and a 780 on the US Hist SAT II. She intends on majoring in Bio in college and scored a 770 (86%) on the SAT II Bio(M) and is disappointed in that score. Should she be? Would you recommend that she send that score in as she is applying to Ivy league schools? She is a competitive athlete so is unable to retake the test unless she cancels a tournament. Would you recommend she retake the Bio(M) SAT II test?

    Thank you for your help.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      CK,
      She should absolutely submit her Bio score. She may be personally disappointed, but that’s not the same thing as hurting her chances. It is a third subject AND is a 770. There is no requirement that you get an 800 in the subject you plan to study in college.

  • Avatar Blake says:

    Hey Art,

    Thanks for all you do! I scored an 1470 on the SAT: (R/W 700) and (M 770). I also scored a 750 on Math II and a 790 on Chem. I’m only going to apply to one ivy but a few other selective schools. Should I send the subject tests to the ivy or the selective schools respectively (they are all optional)?

  • Avatar Michael says:

    Art,

    My son scored 760 (EBRW) and 740 (Math) on the SAT.
    But his SAT II Subject tests were 720 (Math 2)(63rd percentile); 760 (Biology E) (80th percentile) and 720 (Spanish)(67th percentile)(Not a native speaker).
    Should he retake any of the subject tests? If he is interested in a Top-10 school, should he not send the subject tests?

    Thanks,

    Mike

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Mike,
      I’d consider a retake on Math 2. With a bit of study, students can usually refresh skills or fill in gaps. It is usually easier to gain points there than, say, on U.S. History or Lit. Almost all schools will look at his highest performances — and Score Choice is available, too — so there is no reason who couldn’t retry Bio and Spanish, especially if he is still studying Spanish. His current scores are in a toss-up area. If he can present 2 scores at or above 50, then I would definitely recommend sending scores.

  • Avatar Sandy says:

    Hi Art – Looking for a 3rd subject test for Georgetown. My daughter currently has 1570 superscore and I’m pretty confident she can do well on math 2 and bio subject tests. If she takes German and only scores a 650, will that really hurt her chances? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sandy,
      It’s not something that can be quantified, because the admission process isn’t so neat. It would be wonderful if she scored a 750 on German, but a 650 is not going to eliminate her from contention. Test scores are not the most important part of an application. Subject Test scores are less important than SAT scores. The third Subject Test score is the least important Subject Test score. Almost all students sees lower scores in their third subject, and it is hard for students to show a 700+ score in a foreign language studied only in high school.

      Has your daughter explored other areas? U.S. History? Chemistry? Literature? If German is her best option for a third test, all she can do is stay optimistic — and perhaps fit in a bit of preparation. At all non-Georgetown schools, she’ll be evaluated on her two best subjects.

      • Avatar Sandy says:

        Thank you, Art! She took AP World in 10th and will take AP US in 12th, so timing isn’t great for one of those. She’s terrified of the Chemistry one and I’ve heard that Lit is very tough, too. I appreciate your reply.

  • Avatar Catherine says:

    Hello, Art,

    My son got 800 on the Math 2 subject SAT. Since subject SAT score percentile range is pretty wide. When the subject score is sent to college, does the percentile also get to send to the school?

    Thanks!

    Catherine

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Catherine,
      College Board calculate percentile ranks for Subject Tests as the percentage of students scoring lower. The currently reported percentile rank for an 800 in Math 2 is 79, which means that about 21% of students earn a perfect mark. Yes, colleges do receive this information, but it’s not necessarily relevant, since they can look at the distribution among their own applicants. I discourage the interpretation of percentiles with Subject Tests because the pool of test-takers varies so much from test to test.

  • Avatar Hope says:

    Hi Art,
    I toke the Lit subject test and received a 630 and with a superscore my SAT is a 1310, which I understand is pretty low. I was wondering if it is worth sending in my lit subject test to NYU? I don’t know if that would help or do nothing in my favor. If you could help me decide, I would be so thankful.
    Thank You

  • Avatar Ms Shoaib says:

    Hi Art!
    My daughter decided to apply to American Universities in September this year (quite late) and has to apply this year too. She received a 690 in her SAT Subject Literature test and a 680 in her Math I Subject test (she sat both in the start of November), which I understand is low for Ivy League Colleges . If she were to do well in her General SAT in December, do you think she should send her subject tests scores or not? If not, would it be disadvantageous to not send in any subject test scores since there are no dates left for anymore SAT subject tests before the January deadline for applications? For context purposes, she is a UK applicant and wants to apply to Harvard. Also, what score do you think she should be aiming for on her general SAT if she were to submit the Subject test scores?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Ms Shoaib.
      I would recommend that you evaluate where you stand after your daughter receives her SAT scores. At the most competitive schools — Harvard, for example — her Subject Test scores will not help her case, so they are better left off. If she scores in the 1450+ range on the SAT, then I’d say that the Subject Tests aren’t a positive at any school. If she is in the 1300-1350 range or below, then the STs would be a nice complement.

  • Avatar Jeff G. says:

    What happened to the comments section?

  • Avatar Ganu says:

    Thanks for the quick response Art.

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