Test Prep

Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?


The SAT is a standardized test that can offer your target schools a glimpse of your academic strengths. But with only a general verbal, math and writing portion to assess your skills, you might feel a little limited if you're a chemistry whiz or fluent en francais.

Enter the SAT Subject tests. When you want to showcase your talents in certain subjects or languages, especially if you are considering a major in this subject or language, then an SAT Subject test is the perfect way to impress the college admissions officers.

There are 20 different subject tests, which are all multiple choice and are offered in the categories of science, math, humanities and foreign languages. Subjects include Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean and Italian languages, as well as Chemistry, Biology, US and World History and Math (two levels). The best part: Each test is only 60 minutes long, much shorter than the regular SAT!

Timing Is Everything

The subject tests are usually offered six times a year, on the same dates as the SAT is administered and in the same test center. However, not every subject test is available on every test date, so be sure to check the dates for the subject tests you need to take. The Language tests that have a listening portion are only offered in November, and you may have to bring your own CD player to play a CD for this particular test. You can check the test day requirements here.

June is a great time to take the tests, since it's generally recommended that you've finished the class or classes in those subjects. This way, you'll have just gone through all the material that is required for that subject and be better prepared for the corresponding SAT Subject test. If you are struggling in the class for that subject, you might want to consider postponing the test until you feel more comfortable with the material. Otherwise, try take the tests you need before the next school year begins and you forget everything you've learned.

Just like for the SAT, you'll probably want to take a practice test or two for your chosen Subject tests to get a feel for the difficulty level of the questions and a sense of pacing, since the test is only an hour long.

Some Schools Require Subject Tests

The more competitive schools are more likely to ask for scores from two or three SAT Subject tests with your application. The College Board offers this list of schools that require, suggest or consider SAT Subject test scores. As always, check directly with the admissions office at your target schools before applying to confirm their SAT Subject test score requirements.

For example, Cal Tech requires freshman applicants to submit an SAT with Essay or ACT with Writing, as well as an SAT Subject test in Mathematics Level Two and one SAT Science Subject test. "We do not accept any substitutes for these tests," Cal Tech says on its Standardized Tests page.

Rules of The Game

The policies for the SAT Subject tests are a bit more flexible than those of the SAT or ACT. First of all, you can take a different subject test than the one you signed up to take, since all the subject tests are together in one testing booklet. You can even change your mind and take fewer or more tests (up to three on the same day) than you signed up for. The only exception is for the Language with Listening portion, which must be specifically signed up for beforehand because it is only offered in November. What's also interesting to note is that you can cancel your scores on the test day or a few days after you've taken the test(s) if you feel that you didn't do very well.

If you've got a few favorite subjects in school and you're grades reflect the hard work you've put in, consider taking the corresponding SAT Subject tests. It's not much extra effort to prepare for the test, and it could seriously help boost your chances at admission into a competitive college and eligibility for scholarship opportunities.