Test Prep

What's the Difference Between SAT I and SAT II?

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You've probably run across the terms SAT I and SAT II on various college websites -- but as you start researching schools, you need to get the details on how these tests are different.

First of all, it's time to update your standardized testing lingo: If you want to be cool, don't call it the SAT I – it's just called the SAT now. And don't mention the SAT II – it's now referred to as the SAT Subject Tests, and there are a grand total of 20 Subject Tests you can choose from. Exciting, right?


These tests do have some things in common. Both the SAT and the Subject Tests are standardized tests created by the College Board that feature multiple-choice questions and are scored on the same scale of 200 to 800.

Now, let's discuss what sets these tests apart.

Areas of Focus

The main difference is that the SAT is a general test that covers basic skills, while the Subject Tests each focus on finding out how much you know about a specific subject.

The SAT covers basic math, English language and reading skills that you should have learned before entering college. For this test, you are allowed to bring an acceptable calculator to use during the Math section only. There is an optional writing portion as well, which may be required or recommended by your target colleges.

There are 20 different SAT Subject Tests that fall into five general areas: English, history, math, science and languages. Some of the language tests offer the test with a listening portion that requires you to bring your own CD player and acceptable headphones – keep in mind that these tests are only offered in November. For the two different math Subject Tests, you are allowed to bring an acceptable calculator.

College Requirements

Another difference is that many US-based colleges require applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT, but far fewer schools require you to take any Subject Tests. However, you'll find that more competitive colleges, as well as colleges based in other countries, will almost always require you to send in scores from two or three Subject Tests – usually those most relevant to your intended major. Then there are other colleges that “recommend” or “strongly encourage” that you send in at least one Subject Test score, which usually means it's a good idea to do so.

There are definitely other applicants who will be sending in Subject Test scores, and if you don't, your application could be viewed as lacking in comparison. Some colleges simply say that they will “consider” any Subject Test scores that you submit, so again, if you think you can get a strong score in a particular Subject Test, especially one that is relevant to your intended major, then it will only make your application that much stronger and help you stand out more from other applicants. Now here's the best part about taking Subject Tests – some colleges will actually give you college credit for scoring high on a Subject Test (just like when you perform well on an AP exam).

Length of Test

The SAT is three hours long, if you don't count the optional writing portion or the breaks. If you add in the breaks and take the writing portion, the total time will be three hours and 50 minutes. The Subject Tests are only one hour long, even if you take a language test with a listening portion.

Test Dates

The SAT is given six times a year, and the Subject Tests are typically offered on the same dates as the SAT, with the exception of the March test date. Also, you can register to take up to three Subject Tests on the same date. However, you cannot take both the SAT and Subject Tests on the same date.

You'll need to carve out some time to study for the SAT, of course, but as soon as you know that you want (or need) to take a Subject Test or two, make sure you fit in some time to study up on those topics – which hopefully you'll have covered already in one of your classes.

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