SAT Subject test basics
SAT Subject Tests are quite different from the standard SAT or ACT test. Almost every college and university requires either an SAT or ACT score as part of their application, and many have minimum score cut-offs. Some universities, however, will also require one or more SAT Subject Tests as well.
SAT Subject Tests are very different from the standard SAT and ACT tests. While the ACT and SAT tests are standard requirements for applications to colleges and universities, some of the most competitive schools may require one or more SAT Subject Tests (even if you only took the ACT test and submitted those scores). In this situation, selecting a test is often the student’s choice. Some schools that have programs in certain fields may require an SAT Subject Test in that field. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be looking at different SAT Subject Test areas in some detail, but here are the basics that apply across the board.
If your target school(s) require an SAT Subject Test, start preparing now!
While opinions seem to differ on whether or not the Subject Tests are significantly harder than the regular SAT, they are specialized. The tests can have up to 95 questions each, so both depth and breadth of knowledge will be tested. In other words, you’ll have to know more of a particular subject to do well in it. And the SAT Subject Tests Scores are far more competitive. This is because those who take SAT Subject Tests are typically high-achieving students who have studied that particular area far more than their peers. Pretty much everyone applying to college will take the SAT, ACT, or both. However, if a student chooses to take an SAT Subject Test, you can bet they are very confident in their ability in that subject. All the rules and caveats for test preparation in general apply to preparing for the SAT Subject Tests.
SAT Subject Tests scores on a scale of 200 to 800, just like the individual SAT sections. Be warned, however, that a “high” score on the regular SAT is not the same as a “high” score on an SAT Subject Test. For example, a 750 score on the math section of the regular SAT would result in the student being in the high 90s (percentile-wise). But a 750 on a Subject Test would only put a student’s percentile in the high 70s.
There are two very good reasons to take an SAT Subject Test even if it isn’t required. First, if you plan to major in a field where a Subject Test would apply, you can take the test and submit your score to show that you’d be a great addition to that particular department! According to Princeton Review, SAT Subject Tests Scores of 650 or above (out of a possible 800) is usually considered a good score for an SAT Subject Test, but the most competitive schools may look for a 700 or higher.
The second reason to take an SAT Subject Test is that a high SAT Subject Test Score may allow the student to be exempted from basic required classes or to jump into advanced classes in the subject. Each school sets its own policy, so if your goal is to skip over certain classes, be sure to check the policy of your target schools before you register for the SAT Subject Test.
There are currently 20 SAT Subject Tests available, 8 academic and 12 language tests.
- United States History
- World History
- Mathematics Level I – Consists of basic algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions, and statistics.
- Mathematics Level II – Consists of more advanced algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions, and statistics.
- Biology – Choice of taking either an ecological (“E”) or molecular (“M”) biology test.
For the SAT Subject Tests in foreign languages, some tests are purely written tests while others have a “Listening” component.* The foreign language tests available are:
- Chinese (Mandarin) with Listening
- French with Listening
- German with Listening
- Modern Hebrew
- Japanese with Listening
- Korean with Listening
- Spanish with Listening
I should note that for SAT Subject Tests in foreign languages, students are not required to have taken any formal classes in those languages, so students who are bilingual or have been regularly exposed to a language can take the tests without being at a disadvantage. However, just being able to speak a language fluently doesn’t mean they are well-versed in the language’s grammar rules. The SAT Subject Test covers many areas of language, including grammar.
Sign ups for the SAT Subject Tests are more flexible than the regular SAT. Students are not required to take the test(s) they initially signed up for. They can choose to take different tests or can choose not to take a test they signed up for at all (although, as a rule, refunds aren’t available). A student can even take more tests than they originally planned (up to a maximum of 3 tests in a single administration) and be billed later. These SAT subject test changes can be made on the day of the test.
SAT SUBJECT TEST DATES
SAT Subject Test dates are usually on the same days as the regular SAT. Students are not allowed to take the regular SAT and an SAT Subject Test on the same day. Students can take up to 3 Subject Tests in one day. Princeton Review keeps an up-to-date list of SAT Subject Test dates and sign-up deadlines. The dates for the foreign language test vary, but the tests that do not include listening are June 1 or June 2, 2019. There is only one foreign language with listening tests SAT Subject Test dates are only given one date per year.
The fee for the SAT Subject Test is $26 plus $22 for each test the student takes ($26 for language with listening). Like the regular SAT, fee waivers are available and eligible students can take up to 6 SAT Subject Tests in two administrations.
*The College Board website states that to take a “Listening” test the student must bring their own portable CD player and headphones and recommend bringing a backup as well. This being 2019, you’ll probably have to buy a portable CD player – yes, they still make those. With a quick search, cheapest I found new was $24.99. Ebay has plenty of used players listed as well.
**No Sanskrit test, but Latin they have…