Test Prep

Your Guide to SAT Subject Tests

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No matter how far you are in your college admissions journey, I’m sure you’ve heard of (or likely taken) the SAT or ACT — maybe both! — in preparation for your college applications. However, there’s a chance you haven’t heard about another offering from the College Board: SAT Subject Tests. I can hear what you’re thinking already: “You mean I need to take another test?” Don’t panic! The short answer is “probably not,” but here’s a more in-depth answer.

Do All Schools Look at These Scores?


According to the College Board, out of more than a thousand colleges and universities in the US, only about 265 use the SAT Subject Tests. Going just by the odds, you probably don’t need to take these additional tests. Also, out of those 265 schools, each may treat Subject Test scores differently. For example, MIT applicants are required to take one of either Math Level 1 or Level 2, and one of Biology, Chemistry or Physics -- no other Subject Test scores are necessary. Conversely, at Northwestern University, SAT Subject Tests are optional for most applicants but are required for those applying to the Honors Program in Medical Education, the Integrated Science Program or if an applicant was home schooled. Other schools “recommend” the tests.

“Recommended” vs. “Considered”

As with any other “recommended” portion of your application, I suggest you treat that as “required.” After all, you don’t want to be automatically rejected from a school because you didn’t submit any SAT Subject Tests. Moreover, given how competitive college admissions can be at selective schools, you want to do as much as possible to strengthen the objective factors in your application, and giving yourself an advantage in this area might be a good way to do it. With that said, if you’re going to use these tests to bolster your application, you should aim to take those in your areas of strength, so that you can submit higher scores.

Keep in mind, though, that some schools may also claim SAT Subject Tests are “considered,” which means you don’t need to go out of your way to take them. If those scores would enhance your application, you should absolutely snag a few to submit, but otherwise they won’t hold enough weight to warrant spending too much time (or money!) on them. Even if a school simply “considers” SAT Subject Test scores, I recommend doing a little more research into how that particular school handles them. For instance, Boston College uses foreign language SAT Subject Test scores to meet graduation requirements in lieu of taking courses during college. Another example is New York University, where you are allowed to use two or three Subject Tests as an alternative to the SAT or ACT. (It’s likely that other schools on your list will require you to take the SAT or ACT, but it’s a good idea to keep that alternative in mind when deciding whether to take these additional tests.)

I’m Taking the Tests -- Now What?

Once you’ve researched which tests (if any) are appropriate for your target schools, it’s time to get ready. As with the rest of standardized testing, planning and preparation are key. First, decide which tests to take, then determine when to take them. (Note that not every Subject Test is offered during each administration.) It’s important to plan ahead here: You can take up to three subject tests on the same day, but you cannot take the regular SAT on the same day as any SAT Subject Test.

Also, speaking of planning ahead, try to give yourself time to study, and then start your prep. From tutoring to books, The Princeton Review offers plenty of resources to help you reach your target score.