When it’s time to apply to college, high school students can do several things to demonstrate they're ready. While most students do this through taking the SAT or ACT, as well as perhaps taking several AP exams and maintaining a good GPA, another way to do this is through taking SAT Subject Tests.
These subject tests have been around for quite some time, and may be better known to some as the "SAT II." While SAT Subject Tests are not required for all applicants, it’s important to learn about them and understand if you’ll need them, or if you'll want to take them when you’re applying to college.
What Are the SAT Subject Tests?
The SAT Subject Tests are college-readiness exams that test you on specific school subjects, according to CollegeBoard. There are 20 subject tests, and it's the only test of its kind in which you can choose to take the subjects that you feel will best showcase your abilities to college admissions counselors.
Each subject test is an hour long with all multiple-choice questions. According to PrepScholar, each subject test is scored on a scale from 200 to 800, with the average score ranging from 605 to 761, depending on the test. The SAT Subject Tests are not a substitute for the actual SAT or the ACT. They are merely additional tests unless your prospective school requires them.
SAT 1 vs. SAT 2
The SAT Subject Tests have also been referred to as the “SAT II.” Therefore, the regular SAT exam could also be referred to as “SAT I," though these terms aren't really used anymore, according to PrepScholar. These tests do share some similarities but are actually quite different.
The first thing to understand is that the SAT (or the SAT I) is one of the two college-readiness exams that high school students take if they want to apply for college. If students don’t want to take the SAT, then they can take the ACT and still take the SAT Subject Tests (or the SAT II).
Though the SAT Subject Tests, or SAT II, is one hour long per test, the SAT, or SAT I, is 180 minutes. The SAT II is scored on a scale from 200 to 800, whereas the SAT I is scored from 400 to 1600. If you had to choose which test to study more for, then that would definitely be the SAT I, as the SAT II is optional in more cases than not.
SAT Subject Test Subjects
With 20 subject tests to choose from, students have many options to take a test, or several tests, in an area of academics that they feel they excel in most. If the college you’re applying to requires that you take the SAT Subject Tests, then it’s best to inquire with that school about how many you should take or which ones you should take. Otherwise, you can take as many subject tests as you want.
The main subjects for the SAT Subject Tests are mathematics, science, English, history and languages, according to CollegeBoard:
- Mathematics: Math Level I and Math Level II
- Science: Biology, Chemistry and Physics
- English: Language with Listening and Literature
- History: U.S. History and World History
- Languages: Spanish, Spanish with Listening, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening, Italian, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening
Why Take the SAT Subject Tests?
Since the SAT Subject Tests are typically not required, you might be wondering why you would even consider taking them. Studying for the SAT I or ACT is enough work and pressure already, and most students wouldn’t want to add anything else to their plate.
However, the SAT Subject Tests can be a great way to strengthen your college application. According to CollegeBoard, some schools may require that you take SAT Subject Tests if you’re interested in applying to a specific program. For example, if you’re looking to get into a biology major, then the prospective school might require you to take the SAT Biology Subject Test.
If the schools you’re applying to do not require the SAT Subject Tests, then you still might want to consider taking them anyway. This is because it will give you an opportunity to stand out to college admissions, especially if there are some weak points in your overall application.
Another reason to take the SAT Subject Tests could be if you're hoping to get into a specific program, and you happen to excel in that area, but not so much in other academic subjects. Taking the SAT Subject Test in that specific area can show the school that you are truly dedicated to this particular subject, despite the fact you may have struggled in other areas. The tests could also be a good way for ESL, international and bilingual students to demonstrate their abilities.
Schools that Require Subject Tests
For some schools, taking the SAT Subject Tests is not optional because that specific school requires their applicants to take the tests for admissions. It’s important to note that there are three categories: Schools that require the tests, schools that recommend taking the tests, and schools that consider your test scores, according to PrepScholar.
The schools that require the SAT Subject Tests are:
- California Institute of Technology
- Cooper Union (Engineering Only)
- Cornell University (Arts and Sciences and Engineering Only)
- Harvard College
- Harvey Mudd College
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- McGill University (Here, you can take the ACT in lieu of SAT I and II)
- Mills College (Homeschool applicants only)
SAT Subject Test Dates
The SAT Subject Tests are given on different dates throughout the year, according to Princeton Review. Many of the tests are given at the same time each month, so that you can take more than one subject test at a time.
For the 2018 to 2019 school year, tests were given between May and June the following year and several times throughout the year. Though some tests, for instance, the language tests, are only given once a year, except for Spanish.
If you plan on taking the SAT Subject Tests, especially if you want to take more than one, check the dates and the deadlines for registration ahead of time. The deadlines for registration are typically a month before the test is given.
Rules for Switching SAT Subject Tests
If you’re interested in signing up for one SAT Subject Test or a number of SAT Subject Tests, then according to CollegeBoard, there are some rules and guidelines that are worth noting, so that you don’t run into any mishaps on test day:
- You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests in one day. Since all the subjects are in the same booklet, you can only work on one test per the allotted time period.
- You cannot take the SAT I and the SAT II on the same day.
- You can register for Subject Tests and take more or fewer on test day, or switch the subjects you want to take. The only test you cannot change to is the Language and Listening test, as you need special equipment for the test. Therefore, you need to register beforehand to have the permission to bring that equipment.
- Princeton Review: SAT Subject Test Dates
- PrepScholar: SAT 1 vs SAT 2
- PrepScholar: Colleges That Require SAT Subject Tests
- CollegeBoard: Subject Areas
- CollegeBoard: What to Expect on Test Day
- CollegeBoard: Subject Tests Overview
- CollegeBoard: Why Take the Tests
- PrepScholar: Average SAT Subject Test Scores
Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.